The Latest Developments in Sustainable Cotton Pest Management
June 23, 2022
The updated Cotton LEADS℠ webpage offers insights into integrated pest management.
In the United States, there are more than 100 types of insects and diseases that attack cotton, and protecting crops from these pests is an essential aspect of sustainable farming. When pests damage cotton crops, they decrease the plant’s overall efficiency. Damaged plants may require more fertilizer, pesticides, tillage, and irrigation to produce the same amount of cotton per acre. Targeted use of pesticides – including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides – is one necessary tool in sustainable agriculture, but growers and researchers are pursuing many other pest management techniques that can steward the environment and cotton quality and quantity simultaneously.
In fact, the number of cotton crop insecticide applications today is approximately 50% lower than in the late 1980s, and in 2019, 44% of planted cotton acres received no foliar insecticide applications at all.1 Research across several cotton pest control areas seeks to continue this trend amid pest adaptations and changing climate conditions that exacerbate pest challenges.
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an environmentally sensitive pest-control strategy growers use to prevent pests and pest damage over the long term. IPM includes a range of techniques like biological control, habitat manipulation, modifying cultural practices (tillage, for example), and using pest-resistant cotton varieties.
IPM helps growers manage pests efficiently and economically while reducing pesticide use. In IPM, pesticides are never a first resort. IPM includes methods to:
- Prevent: keep a pest population from infesting cotton fields
- Avoid: use cultural measures to mitigate or eliminate damage from pests
- Monitor: detect and identify pests by systematically scouting fields
- Suppress: control or reduce existing pest populations to decrease crop damage
The cotton industry, land grant universities and the USDA are all undertaking multiple research projects to continue advancing IPM methods. During the 2022 growing season alone approximately 55 entomology research projects across 16 states were underway, with almost all aimed at enhancing IPM practices.
Visit our Pest Management webpage to learn more about ongoing IPM research, and how it works hand-in-hand with soil and water conservation efforts.
The push to develop new weed management techniques is not solely a sustainability effort, but it can have widespread effects on sustainable agriculture practices. For example, as weeds like Palmer amaranth become more resistant to herbicides, growers must resort to tilling to uproot the pests, thwarting any no-tillage soil conservation practices.
As of the 2022 growing season, approximately 15 weed management projects were in motion across 13 states. These projects focused on cultural, chemical, and biological options for controlling weeds without needing to resort to increased tillage, including “see and spray” technologies that carefully target herbicide use only where specific weeds are present. Other multi-state projects are investigating ways to decrease weed seed development and how cover crops can suppress weeds while improving soil health.
Read more about current weed management research and weed management techniques on our Pest Management webpage.
Pest-Resistant Cotton Varieties
Several cotton varieties have been bred to resist insects and pathogens and they help growers reduce cotton pesticide use. Herbicide-tolerant cotton varieties have enabled growers to move more towards conservation tillage systems by allowing them to spray rather than till between rows. This resulting reduction overall in tilling has had cascading effects on sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fuel use, slowing down soil loss and increasing soil biodiversity.
Discover how pest-resistant cotton varieties support no-tillage efforts and have wide-ranging environmental impacts on our Pest Management Page.
U.S. cotton growers are on the cutting edge of enhanced and precision pest management strategies that specify the right pesticides, at the right times, in the right ways and limit overall use. As with other sustainable cotton agricultural practices, U.S. growers are sharing sustainable pest management practices with cotton growers around the world as they discover them. These new pest management strategies can make a critical impact on the cotton industry by improving grower profitability, quality cotton supply and cotton’s environmental sustainability.
1 National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2020). 2019 Agricultural Chemical Use Survey.
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