In California and Arizona, pink bollworm (a.k.a. pinkie) control has cost a king's ransom — more than $1.3 billion. In the Southwest, the pinkie has been proclaimed the “No. 1 Cotton Pest” for 40 years.

Cotton's ‘baddest’ bug, has forced the use of 72 million acre equivalents of pesticides in Southern California and Arizona.

The pinkie has ceased to be an economic pest in California's San Joaquin Valley (SJV) since exclusion efforts began in the late 1960s using trapping and sterile pink bollworm moth releases to suppress any small breeding population. Texas and New Mexico and northern Mexico cotton producers are following the lead of the San Joaquin and are nearing eradication after a concentrated effort to reduce pinkie populations using primarily Bt cotton and matting confusion pheromone technology.

Arizona eradication update

Eradication efforts in Arizona and Southern California are the final piece of the puzzle that when put together will show a picture of the pink bollworm eradicated in the U.S. and Mexico. After 80 percent of Arizona's 900-cotton growers approved a referendum authorizing a pink bollworm eradication program in 2004, the Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council (ACRPC) launched eradication in 2006 in what is called Area 1; Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, Pinal, Pima, and Maricopa counties.

In 2007, the ACRPC's Area 2 — Mohave and La Paz counties — joined the fold. Meanwhile, the grower funded California Department of Food and Agriculture pink bollworm eradication effort directed by the California Cotton Pest Control Board focused on anti-pinkie efforts in Riverside and Imperial counties as well.

In 2008, Arizona's remaining county to enter the pinkie annihilation race will be Yuma County, the ACRPC's Area 3. All three Arizona areas are four-year eradication programs.

With Yuma County soon to board ship, Arizona inches closer to hammering the final silver nail into the pinkie's coffin.

Yuma eradication specifics

Yuma County cotton acreage statistics (pre-eradication) include about 16,724 acres — 8,397 acres of Bt cotton and 8,326 acres of non-Bt.

During an ACRPC-sponsored meeting with about 40 cotton growers and others in Yuma in mid-October, the ACRPC's Chairman and Roll, Ariz. cotton producer Clyde Sharp and Director Larry Antilla outlined the specifics of the Yuma launch.

“In Yuma County in 2008, cotton growers will have the ability to grow 100 percent Bt cotton,” Sharp said. “Do you have to grow 100 Bt cotton? No. This will not affect those who want to grow seed increase in non-Bt.”

Yet Sharp drove home the message, “Growing Bt cotton is the fastest, easiest, and most economical way to run this program to get in, destroy the pinkies, and get out. I urge all growers to grow 100 percent Bt cotton. There's a cost either way whether Bt is grown or not.”

As with Areas 1 and 2, individual Yuma County cotton growers in Area 3 can plant 100 percent Bt cotton under an Environmental Protection Agency mandated 24c special local need registration. Bt and non-Bt cotton must be treated with sterile moths at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's recommended rate, and comply with all other cultural requirements of the eradication program.

The ACRPC's 24c strictly applies to the ACRPC's Areas 1, 2, and 3 where sterile PBW moth technology (SIT) is an integral component. Under the ACRPC program, growers can plant any variety during the four-year program.

“Bt varieties are definitely encouraged as much as possible because of the true benefit we've seen in other areas with high levels of Bt,” Antilla said. “If growers choose to plant 100 percent Bt cotton in 2008, you can under the special 24c local need. That's for Delta and Pine Land Co., Monsanto, and Widestrike — anything with Bollgard and Bollgard II,” Antilla said.

The Yuma program, like the other two areas, will be funded by two components:

  1. Monitoring and management: $1.25 per bale from current bale assessment; will cover program management, monitoring, traps, lures, etc., plus supervision of pheromone and insecticide applications.

  2. PBW control: Bt cotton — $32 tech fee represents growers' full contribution; and non-Bt cotton — a $32 per acre fee will cover season long control including pheromone, insecticide, and application costs.

A USDA direct appropriation funds the sterile moth component.

The deadline for registration for non-Bt acres in Yuma County is Jan. 15, 2008. Payments are due to the ACRPC by March 15, 2008. All growers will receive a registration form.

Yuma County joins the eradication fray amid some resistance from growers. Since much of Yuma's cotton is grown short-season for rotation with winter vegetables, some growers believe the short season negates the need for an eradication program. Cotton in Yuma County is planted as early as Feb. 1 with termination around Aug. 1.

“We don't think we need it,” Jerry Cullison said at the meeting. Cullison grew 1,300 acres of conventional cotton on his Wellton, Ariz. farm in 2007 from Delta Pine and AgPro seed he'd grown in the past.

“I have enough seed to plant for another two to three years,” Cullison said. “For years they've said the germ is no good and you need fresh seed every year. I've raised lots of seed for Stoneville and Delta Pine. I planted seed this year that was in my barn for seven years and had a perfect stand. If you keep the facilities proper, the seed will last a long time.”

Yet Cullison concurred that if pinkies from Yuma County cotton fields are moving to other cotton growing areas, eradication is the way to go.

“If we're propagating pinkies, and they think we're infesting everybody else, I don't have a problem with it for four years. If we're infecting everybody else, then I'm all for everybody to do it. Plant it all and get rid of it once and for all.”

During his presentation, ACRPC Chairman Sharp used maps showing native moth finds in traps placed in desert non-cotton areas east and north of Yuma this past summer.

“I have heard many say we don't have a pinkie problem in Yuma. We do have a pinkie problem in Yuma because we're infesting the rest of the state,” said Sharp, a Yuma County producer.

“Many of the pinkies found in the traps had extremely battered wings which means they have been in flight for quite some time,” Sharp said. “How viable are they to re-infest cotton in other areas? We don't know, but pinkies are moving out of the Yuma area to the east and north.”

During the week of Sept. 22, traps southwest of Buckeye, Ariz. (non-cotton area), contained 90 or more pinkies. Traps in Maricopa County (west of the heavy Coolidge and Eloy cotton growing areas in Pinal County) contained 1 to 10 native moths each. North of Yuma 10 to 50 moths were found in traps.

“Basically we're re-infesting what we've done in pink bollworm eradication to the north and east (Areas 1 and 2). This is why we're coming to Yuma in 2008,” Sharp said.

About 100,000 acres of cotton are grown in the areas of Yuma County, San Luis (Sonora, Mexico), and Baja California (Mexico), he noted.

2006-2007 eradication facts

In 2006, Arizona's pink bollworm eradication program (Area 1) included 165,632 acres — 154,168 in Bt and 11,463 in non-Bt. In ACRPC eradication targeted boll sampling in 2006, 53,292 bolls were collected in the late season. Of the bolls sampled containing larvae, total infestation was 2.12 percent. A hot zone in the Arizona City, Ariz. area contained 13.23 percent. Outside the hot zone the figure dropped to .6 percent.

In 2007, cotton acreage in Areas 1 and 2 totaled 162,492 acres — 155,595 Bt and 6,897 non-Bt.

In 2005, 42.39 natives were caught in traps per week (pre-ACRPC program) compared to 6.74 percent in 2006, a whopping 84 percent reduction.

Sterile moths

Sterile moths are a crucial impetus for successful pink bollworm reductions in the West and Southwest. Moths reared at the U.S. Department of Agriculture/California Department of Food and Agriculture lab in Phoenix, Ariz. are released by airplane 500 feet above cotton fields.

Of the 3.8 billion moths reared at the lab from May to Oct. 1, 2006, aerial distribution included:

  1. San Joaquin Valley - 275,231,706 moths
  2. Arizona - 1,681,725,915
  3. New Mexico - 323,660,970
  4. Texas - 1,339,620,221
  5. Mexico - 213,762,095

“Sterile moths are an incredibly important part of the PBW eradication program,” Antilla said. “Whereas pheromone systems are passive, these moths are active. They are seeking other moths to mate.” Released steriles are an equal mix of males and females, Antilla said. “You have sterile males that are calling native females, and sterile females calling native males. It's an incredible system that has worked in the SJV for almost 40 years.”

In 2006 and 2007 Arizona sterile release efforts, moths were released seven days a week during moth production months without a single skipped day.

Cotton versus wheat

Jim Cuming grew 165 acres of cotton on his Yuma Valley farm in 2007 including Delta Pine's 555 BG/RR, 147 RF, and 167 RF varieties. The former president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association calls the pink bollworm eradication program valid and sound.

“I support the program because it's one more insect we wouldn't have worry about if it wasn't here.” But cotton production may disappear from Cuming's radar screen in 2008.

“You can't grow cotton when you can grow wheat for $300 a ton. Wheat now is a more profitable crop than cotton. Even if you make four bales of cotton at 70 or 80 cents, your inputs will be so much more than your wheat inputs that it will not be economical to plant cotton,” Cuming said.

“You'll gross more money on cotton but you'll net more money on wheat. It's the net dollar you're looking at so that's where it's going. It's a fast crop — take a vacation in the summer and don't worry about the crop.”

Cotton will still have its place as a rotation crop in Yuma County as a minor crop, Cuming said.