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Don’t Sacrifice Profitability for Savings in Insect Management

With cotton prices sinking to undesirable lows near the end of the 2014 growing season, it’s only natural that farmers will be thinking of ways to reduce input costs in the coming year. With weeds taking most of the headlines in recent years – and for good reason – many growers may be looking for ways to scale back their insect management programs.

But Cotton Belt entomologists say cotton producers should think twice before making drastic changes to their crop protection plans.

“Generally, we don’t recommend cutting inputs, regardless of commodity prices,” said Angus Catchot, Mississippi State University Extension entomologist.

“Now what we do start seeing, to some extent, is people pulling back on some questionable, borderline applications. But if we have a threshold of insects in a field, then we have confidence that that population is heading to a point that’s going to cause an economic loss, and we recommend treatment.

“If we start moving off of that mark, then we’re going to hurt ourselves, regardless of commodity prices.”

In Mississippi, cotton growers have averaged close to $100 per acre in tarnished plant bug control in recent years. Catchot is well-versed in the profit-robbing capabilities of that pest, in particular. Still, he says, there are effective cultural practices farmers can employ to safeguard against the pest.

“The biggest thing you can do is to plant early, as long as you don’t hurt yourself with cold weather,” Catchot said. “But when you get the crop in the field as fast as you can, it’s unbelievable the amount of late season insect damage that you can avoid, especially with things like tarnished plant bugs, and even bollworms that may slip through the technology.”

Catchot has other recommendations for low-cost plant bug management, as well. He encourages growers in his state to make timely burn downs after harvest, because plant bug populations will build in any lingering vegetative shelter.

“Another is to really pay attention to where you put your crop,” he said. “Try to isolate your cotton away from your corn. That will absolutely help.”

The idea is to have an effective, integrated program to pair with any chemical applications.

“Those are things you can do that can save you some money regardless of commodity price, and maybe more importantly, they’re things you can do when commodity prices are low, because they can be done at little to no cost,” Catchot says.

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