Gaming technology has moved beyond the entertainment realm into production agriculture, providing upland and Pima cotton growers with a new tool to better control lygus, the No. 1 pest in the U.S. cotton belt.
The multi-user, computer-based simulation will help growers more effectively manage the pest in cotton and other crops.
The program was developed for three cotton-growing regions, including California’s San Joaquin Valley, Arizona, and West Texas, but the concept could be eventually deployed throughout the cotton belt.
The software was conceived and commissioned by the University of Arizona (UA) and built by Red Hill Studios.
The simulation program is one result from a five-year project involving cotton scientists, growers, and industry leaders, funded by a $2.5 million grant from the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service’s Risk Avoidance and Mitigation Program (RAMP).
The RAMP study examined lygus populations in cotton, romaine lettuce, dry beans, chile, cauliflower and broccoli grown for seed, alfalfa seed, safflower, tomatoes, onions, garlic, alfalfa hay, guayule, and lesquerella.
The program will be rolled out first in Arizona late this summer or early fall at grower training workshops. A California rollout is expected this fall or winter.
“We need to better understand lygus movement so cotton growers can more strategically arrange their landscape in an overall farming community to minimize pest damage,” says Peter Ellsworth, the project leader, and a UA Integrated Pest Management (IPM) specialist. He and team leaders from California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas worked during the project to reduce the risks of lygus infestations in cotton at three levels: the individual field, local landscape, and the wider ecosystem.
The crux of the lygus simulation is community involvement — an individual grower’s crop decisions and those of neighbors across the local farming community impact lygus numbers and potential crop loss risks.
In mid-May, cotton farmers in Marana, Ariz. (Pima County), and UA Extension staff tested an advanced copy of the lygus gaming simulation under Ellsworth’s direction. On a laptop, each “farmer” was provided a 640-acre section to strategically plant crops, with the overall goal to reduce lygus numbers and damage in cotton.
Crop choices included cotton and wheat — commonly grown in Marana — plus seed alfalfa, grain sorghum, melons, alfalfa hay, guayule, and a fallowed ground option.
The farmers selected crops they believed would least harbor lygus. The choices were tabulated into cotton statistical categories based on the actual percent of lygus infestation; yield loss to lygus per acre; percent yield loss to lygus; and profit-loss per acre.
The farmers were surprised by the impact their crop choices had on lygus damage in cotton across the community. Based on the lessons learned, the simulation then allowed them to start over and replant based on their newfound knowledge. Lygus numbers and financial losses dropped significantly.
The simulation underscored the importance of farmers knowing about these relationships and talking with each other when planning crop placement in order to reduce the risks.
“The simulation was very informative,” says Tommy Glover, Jr., Marana cotton grower. “I didn’t realize the different interactions between crops could so significantly impact lygus movement.”
In the future, he plans to talk with his neighbor to better strategize crop placement to reduce lygus issues.
Marana cotton grower Pat Pacheco says crop placement can strategically reduce insect damage and increase grower productivity.
The UA is the lead institution on the RAMP project. Collaborating institutionsinclude USDA, University of California (UC), Texas A&M University, New Mexico State University, and McGill University.