What is in this article?:
• No other Cotton Belt state has had to deal with the consortium of pests that has plagued Arizona: boll weevil, pink bollworm, whitefly and assorted other plant bugs, nematodes and lepidopterous pests…often one or more in the same year.
• Bruce Heiden has not only survived the challenges, but has been a state and national industry leader, bringing growers together to cope with problems such as destructive pests.
About half the family’s 7,000-acre operation is cotton; the rest is alfalfa hay, wheat, barley and corn. They also have a cattle feeding operation.
Heiden is a native Arizonan. His mother and father, Louise and Walter, along with Bruce’s two older brothers and a sister, moved to Arizona from Massachusetts at the height of the Great Depression.
“The doctors back east told my dad he had to get out of the cold and damp weather and move to a drier climate for his health,” Bruce says.
Walter Heiden went to work as an auto mechanic in Buckeye and eventually for the local International Harvester farm equipment dealer. Bruce’s father leased about 340 acres in the early 1940s and grew the family’s first cotton crop. In 1947 Walter Heiden bought the home farm where Bruce now lives.
“We grew the old Acala cotton — it never yielded much above a bale and a half. We nearly starved to death growing that cotton. Deltapine introduced smoothleaf upland here in the 1960s, and it increased yields by a bale. The old Acala went away.”
All the children grew up on the family farm, hoeing cotton and working around the farm and feedlot. Hal became a pilot and eventually an aerial applicator, treating more than one million acres of cotton. He later became a commercial pilot and now spends part of his time on the farm when he’s not flying jet charters, including ferrying the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks sports teams.
Les manages the feedlot, and Art works primarily on the farm. They’ve all shared in the cotton growing challenges, and all agree the whitefly crisis almost brought down the Arizona cotton industry.
“It was unbelievable how bad it was,” says Hal, who was an ag pilot then. “We had to clean the plane’s windshield before every pass — they were so thick, you would almost suffocate.”
The whitefly put Arizona cotton on the brink of extinction. But salvation came with a couple of new insect growth regulators (IGR). “They saved us,” Hal says, “and they are still effective today because of product stewardship.”
Arizona growers and local congressmen lobbied hard for a special use permit from EPA to use the materials. Their effectiveness was enhanced by manufacturers’ insistence on one application per season of Knack and Applaud (later renamed Courier) to ward off any resistance problems.
“The whitefly and pink bollworm hit us at the same time,” Hal says. “We were spending up to $350 per acre on insecticides. The insects were putting us out of business.”
The IGRs turned back the whitefly and insect resistant Bt cotton varieties controlled the pink bollworm.