Survey results reveal that 20 years of integrated pest management in Arizona cotton has significantly reduced insecticide use, saved farmers hundreds of millions of dollars, and kept huge amounts of chemical active ingredient out of the environment.

These staggering survey findings, along with others, are why, even during the Great Recession, the University of Arizona (UA) continues to effectively fund its integrated pest management (IPM) program.

While land grant universities nationwide slice away at agricultural research programs due to budget restraints, the UA expanded its IPM staff by five people last year.

“The IPM cluster hire is a phenomenal accomplishment at a time when Cooperative Extension funding around the country is shrinking,” said Al Fournier, associate director of the UA’s Pest Management Center (APMC) in Maricopa, Ariz. “We’ve been successful with IPM and continue to grow. Successful numbers gain the attention of UA administrators.”

Fournier discussed UA IPM successes in low desert agriculture during a mid-season cotton workshop in Yuma, Ariz. 

Arizona IPM success is based on effective numbers gathering over two decades through UA-conducted crop pest loss surveys for cotton. After each harvest, IPM staff holds grassroots meetings with pest control advisers, farmers, and industry representatives to gain season long crop-pest data.

The crop pest loss survey collects information about the intention behind the sprays, rather than strictly tallying pesticide use.

“Good data is powerful,” Fournier said. “These data provide insight on pest management problems and effective solutions.”

The grassroots feedback focuses on important criteria: the idealized yield versus actual yield for each crop, estimated yield losses from all factors, estimated yield losses by specific pests, insecticide application costs, scouting costs, pest infestations, and the number of acres treated.

The group is quizzed about the specific pest targets in control decisions. Yield loss can be attributed to weather, pests, irrigation, or other management limitations.

Each year, independent PCA Ben Hoyler of Bug Off LLC in Casa Grande, Ariz. participates in the cotton pest loss survey workshop. Hoyler advises on cotton grown in Pima and Pinal counties in central Arizona.

“The top causes for yield loss are the weather and insects in my area,” Hoyler said. “Lygus is the most common insect causing yield loss, but crop losses have declined in recent years. The insect bill has been lighter.”

In 2004, Ellsworth in collaboration with UA scientist John Palumbo expanded the crop pest loss program with separate surveys for head lettuce and melons (watermelon and cantaloupe) with funding assistance from the Western IPM Center. In addition to pest data, the APMC today collects information on weeds and diseases.

The origin of the UA crop pest loss surveys can be traced back to a National Cotton Council cotton insect loss survey initiated during the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in the late 1970s. Today, each cotton-producing state has a designated contact person responsible for coordinating survey data at the state level, which is submitted annually and published online by Mississippi State University. Peter Ellsworth, APMC Director, serves as the Arizona contact for the national survey.

The two decades of survey findings highlight notable changes in cotton pest management. Insecticide usage in Arizona cotton began dropping in 1996 with the introductions of insect growth regulators, Bt cotton, and the Arizona IPM plan.

Insecticide use dropped further with the launch of the pink bollworm (PBW) eradication program beginning in eastern and central Arizona in 2006 and the introduction of a lygus feeding inhibitor the same year.

“Arizona statewide cotton insecticide applications for all insects have dropped from an average of 9.0 sprays from 1990 to 1995 to an average of 1.5 sprays (annually) from 2006 through 2010,” Fournier told the crowd. “This is a cumulative savings to Arizona cotton growers of $220 million over 15 years.”

In addition, reduced pesticide use has kept 1.7 million pounds of active ingredient out of cotton fields per year since 2005. These facts clearly spell success for IPM in Arizona.

Data reveals important findings

Cotton survey data from last year reveals other important findings. In 2010, Arizona growers produced the highest upland cotton yields in the nation - 1,497 pounds/acre - almost double the U.S. average of 779 pounds/acre. The Arizona yield bested California and Australia yields; traditionally the world yield leaders.

The Arizona yield-loss-to-insects average was 3.32 percent, compared to 3.91 percent across the Cotton Belt. Arizona yield loss from all factors was 16.52 percent (26.20 percent Beltwide). Financial losses due to insects in Arizona totaled $39.96/acre versus $35.33/acre Beltwide.

Data collection on pests and insecticides is nothing new in agriculture. Many states rely on pesticide sales records, market research, and state government data from surveys and inspections to measure pesticide use. Arizona and California perform a stellar job of pest fact finding, Fournier says, due to agricultural pesticide use reporting requirements of the states.

As the agricultural community is well aware, insecticide chemistries are under increasing scrutiny by bureaucrats. Collected grassroots survey data has helped extend some chemistry use. On several occasions, the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requested data from the APMC for insecticides on the chopping block.

“The insecticide Endosulfan is currently under EPA phase out,” Fournier said. “We provided Endosulfan data to the agency on several occasions. Frankly I don’t think the industry would have had Endosulfan for as long as it did if not for the survey data,” Fournier said.

In combination with Arizona pesticide use reporting data, survey results were also integral in gaining a Section 18 emergency use exemption for the insecticide growth regulators Knack and Applaud (now known as Courier) in cotton. The data was also crucial for the APMC’s defense of the one-pound-per-acre application rate of acephate for lygus control in cotton.

John Palumbo utilized survey data to gain a three-year, $178,000 Pest Management Alternative Program grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to study aphid management in vegetables.

The survey process also adds flexibility to deal with a sudden influx of a new pest. Desert PCAs and growers were stunned two years ago with the sudden arrival of the Bagrada bug in desert vegetable fields. Palumbo gleaned first-hand Bagrada bug information at the survey meetings. The information was critical since insecticide control information was not yet available on the insect.

Yet the future of crop pest loss survey meetings is questionable. Attendance continues to decline due to busy schedules tied in part to double cropping demands. Over the last three years, the number of participants and the acreage represented has mostly declined, especially for the cotton survey in the Yuma area. Fournier has turned to phone calls, e-mail, and mailed surveys to obtain information.

Ben Hoyler, a 32-year PCA, says the crop pest loss meetings are valuable; a place where PCAs learn and benefit from each other’s experiences.

“I always learn something new from PCAs in other areas on what they are up against,” Hoyler said. “All PCAs should be involved in the meetings to help each other out.”   

For more information, visit the APMC crop pest losses web page at http://cals.arizona.edu/apmc/croplosswg.html. Historical cotton pest loss survey data for Arizona is available on the Arizona Crop Information (ACIS) website at http://cals.arizona.edu/crops/cotton/insects/cil/cil.html.

For national cotton pest loss data, visit www.entomology.msstate.edu/resources/tips/cotton-losses/data/.

cblake@farmpress.com