One huge factor in our favor, however, is the high degree to which predators, parasitoids and disease pathogens control aphid outbreaks in most years.

Spider mites and rain: Possibly because most producers avoided the droughty conditions under which spider often mites thrive, only 1.1 percent of the consultants’ client acreage was treated for this pest in 2012. So our more generous weather patterns were a help in more ways than one.

Plant bugs increasing? Plant bugs were another story, however. Although consultants’ producers treated an average of approximately 6 percent of their acreage for plant bugs between 2004 and 2007, in 2012, almost 20 percent of their cotton acreage was treated for plant bugs.

As is often the case, plant bug levels and damage tends to increase farther east, particularly in the Blacklands and Tidewater areas of North Carolina.

The clients of two consultants working in our far eastern counties sprayed 100 percent of their cotton fields for plant bugs in 2012, so plant bugs in some areas and/or years can be an economic concern.

It will be interesting to find out in the next few years if this trend toward increasing plant bug levels on cotton in North Carolina continues.  

Stink bug and bollworm duel threat: On the survey form, our consultants were asked how many times their clients had to treat for late season bollworms and stink bugs in 2012 and which was the primary pest or pest complex.

Their producers treated an average of 1.53 times for the stink bug/bollworm combo, with the stink bug the dominant target 92 percent of the time.

Remember, however, that caterpillar control is not free — Bt technology fees see to that.

Cotton insect pest ranking: Our consultants ranked our five 2012 “major” cotton insect pests from worst to least damaging. Stink bugs took the top spot, followed by thrips, plant bugs, and bollworms, with cotton aphids taking a distant fifth.

In previous years, thrips often edged out stink bugs for the No. 1 ranking.

Additionally, thrips management requires considerable up-front costs in the form of seed treatments and most often the follow-up spray mentioned above.

One consultant considered plant bugs and one regarded bollworms as his/her most damaging pest in 2012.       

Communication preference: When asked if they preferred conventional (articles in trade journals, bulletins, manuals, handouts, etc.) or more high tech means of Extension specialists’ communication of information (web sites, blogs smart phone apps, etc), a decided preference toward electronic communications was expressed — to the tune of 89 percent.

Hopefully, we specialists can put increasingly more of our outreach effort onto up-to-date, timely and relevant electronic communication in our quest to reach greater numbers of our consultant, agent and producer clientele base in a cost-effective manner.