Eliminating pink bollworm — a pest that eats cotton bolls and has caused billions of dollars of damage to the cotton industry — has meant years of committed research by the Agricultural Research Service.

Many of the research findings, particularly from ARS' Western Cotton Research Laboratory (WCRL) in Phoenix, Ariz., have become management strategies in use now by the National Cotton Council (NCC) Pink Bollworm Action Committee in its pink bollworm eradication program.

There have been many attempts to get rid of this pest that costs cotton producers more than $21 million annually for prevention, control and lost yields. Now those involved with the program think they may have finally succeeded. ARS has researched many eradication approaches over the years, but a combination of four of the most successful technologies will be used in the NCC program, according to Thomas J. Henneberry, laboratory director of WCRL.

‘Host-free period’

First is a “host-free period” that shortens the growing season, creating more time between seasons and making it harder for the pest to survive from one year to the next. Another facet of the program will be to plant transgenic pest-resistant cotton to reduce larval feeding. A third strategy involves the scent that female pink bollworms release to attract males.

ARS and other researchers have developed methods for using a powerful version of this scent that, when released in cotton fields, confuses the males and makes it nearly impossible for them to find the females.

The final part of the program will be the release of sterile pink bollworm moths in cotton fields to interfere with the wild moths' normal matings.

The eradication program, which has already started, is proposed for three phases in different locations in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It will be completed sometime in 2004 or 2005.