STARKVILLE, Miss. – As great as last year’s cotton crop was, it would’ve been even better had producers not lost an estimated 1.17 million bales to pests.

The lost cotton was worth $337,024,194 (based on 480-pound bales and 65-cent cotton). Adding in related costs pushed the total to $1.076 billion.

While insect losses were down slightly last year, compared to 2002, the arthropod complex still claimed 4.16 percent of the crop, according to data compiled by Michael R. Williams.

“That was down from 4.61 percent the previous year,” Williams says in a report prepared for the National Cotton Foundation, and “reflects not only a year of low insect pressure over the Cotton Belt, but also a year in which management technologies were more responsive to the needs of production.”

Research, development, and management are currently “rising to the challenge presented by new pest species,” says Williams, who is with the Entomology and Plant Pathology Department at Mississippi State University and serves as Cotton Insect Losses Coordinator for the national assessment project.

Cotton losses coordinators from each cotton state collect and submit the data for the estimates.

The bollworm/budworm complex again ranked No. 1 on the pest list, reducing yields beltwide by 1.39 percent.

Lygus was No. 2, at 0.89 percent; stink bugs were third at 0.735 percent; cotton fleahoppers ranked fourth at 0.322 percent; and thrips were fifth at 0.261 percent.

The boll weevil, once the most devastating pest of U.S. cotton, came in at ninth place, infesting 2.097 million acres and reducing yield by 0.077 percent. Boll weevil eradication costs for U.S. cotton were $9.96 per acre, for a total of $112,810.36. Pink bollworm program costs were $4,754,686.

Other pest loss rankings were spider mites, sixth place; aphids, seventh; fall armyworms, eighth; and a collection of other pests (silverleaf whiteflies, beet armyworms, cutworms, loopers, banded-winged whiteflies, cotton leaf-perforators, and other arthropods) were lumped together in tenth place.

Costs for direct management of arthropod pests averaged $58.88 per acre across the belt, Williams says.

“These pests and their management continue to be a vital factor in U.S. cotton production,” he notes. “In the last few years, management has successfully reduced losses to well below previous years. Only Oklahoma and Missouri reported a greater than 10 percent loss to these pests in 2003.”

The national average is always affected the most by Texas, which had 4.7 million acres of cotton, Williams says, and losses in the state last year were the lowest on record, at 1.90 percent.

“Although management of the bollworm/budworm complex – primarily by transgenic cotton – has greatly reduced their impact, they remained the number one pest for 2003. They infested about 74 percent of the U.S. cotton crop, second only to thrips, which were found in more than 91 percent of the crop.”

Largest insect losses were in Oklahoma, 11.7 percent of the crop, representing 30,403 bales, and Missouri, 10.27 percent, or 89,589 bales.

Other state rankings were South Carolina, third, 8.09 percent; Alabama, fourth, 6.86 percent; and Mississippi, fifth, 5.86 percent. Arizona, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kansas, Virginia, and Florida reported losses greater than 5 percent.

Texas reported more bales lost, 181,687, than any other state, and Mississippi was second, with 178,306 bales lost.

“Pest status continues to change, and minor pests now cause losses,” Williams notes. “Yellow-striped armyworms, western flower thrips, darkling beetles, saltmarsh caterpillars, striped flea beetles, southern armyworms, and clouded plant bugs all contributed to a new look in pest losses.”

Bollworms and budworms were the “undisputed top pests” in 2003, he says, “and once again, bollworms were the dominant species, at more than 85 percent.”

While total losses by the two species have actually dropped over the last few years, Williams points out that losses to all pests have been low.

Bt cotton acreage increased to 6.04 million in 2003, at an estimated cost of $11.61 per acre beltwide. “This represents about 19 percent of the cost of arthropod management, and is second only to foliar application costs,” he says.

U.S. producers spent a total of $45,657,098 for at-planting insecticide applications, according to the study. An estimated 3,147,379 acres of Bt cotton were sprayed at a cost of $145,758,116.

Approximately 43 percent of the U.S. cotton acreage was treated aerially, at a cost of $10,719,003, while 53 percent had ground treatments, for a total cost of $14,259,802.

Cotton was scouted an average of 1.25 times per week beltwide; for the 7,858,484 acres scouted the total costs were $57,398,987.

Copies of the complete report or further information may be obtained from Williams at mwilliams@entomology.msstate.edu

e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com