“If it wasn’t for the California Pest Control Board, we would not be where we are today in PBW eradication,” said Robert Staten, retired USDA-ARS entomologist, Phoenix, Ariz.

(For more, see: Pink bollworm control: greatest environmental story seldom told)

Staten has 42 years in sterile moth technology including his first job working on the PBW sterile moth effort in the Coachella Valley.

“Today, the Cotton Belt with the PBW is running similar to the SJV — growers are not treating with insecticides for pink bollworm since the native population is so low,” Staten said.

“In Arizona, we’re on the cusp of pink bollworm eradication,” he noted.

Credit for the evolution of sterile moth technology to fight native insect populations began with E.F. Knipling, who Staten calls “the father of sterile moth programs.” Knipling first applied the sterile moth process in the battle against screwworms.

For 40-plus years, California has utilized PBW steriles and other methods to reduce native moth numbers. Today, California follows a maintenance program to manage low native numbers.

In the entire U.S.-Mexico, PBW-affected cotton growing region last year, a single larva was found in an experimental Pima cotton field in Mexico. No larvae were found within the program areas in the U.S.

“With an organism like the pink bollworm, zero is a hard number to achieve,” Liesner said. “Sterile moths will remain our tool of choice.”

Reduced PBW counts have increased the opportunity for profitability in cotton production through the reduced use of insecticides.

Peter Ellsworth, University of Arizona IPM specialist, says IPM efforts against the PBW, lygus, and whitefly insects in cotton have heavily reduced insecticide use in the Grand Canyon State.

“At one time, Arizona cotton growers averaged nine sprays per season, but the number today is about 1.5 sprays for insects,” Ellsworth said.

Arizona cotton growers now pay the lowest insecticide control costs in history — more than $388 million saved cumulatively through 2011. In addition, nearly 19 million pounds less insecticide active ingredient enters the environment (or 1.7 million pounds annually).

Ellsworth said, “On average, 23 percent of Arizona cotton acreage is never sprayed for arthropods anymore. That’s something we never thought possible on a single acre 20 years ago.” 

cblake@farmpress.com