Turning to fall armyworms, in both 2010 and 2011, there were widespread outbreaks of the grass or rice strain of this insect pest, although this strain primarily attacks pastures, hay, grass and peanuts, says Smith.

“Fortunately, this strain is easy to control with insecticides, including pyrethroids. This strain does not prefer to feed on cotton, and that explains why we haven’t seen any fall armyworms on our cotton in the past couple of years, even though they’ve been in the environment.”

The most damaging cotton insect pest in the Southeast remains stink bugs, and Smith doesn’t see this changing anytime soon.

Scouting is a critical safeguard against these bugs, he says.

“The most effective way to scout for stink bugs is examine 10- to 12-day-old bolls for signs of internal injury. The difference in managing stink bugs could pay for a scout and a consultant itself because we’re talking about $6 to $9 in application costs.”

A laminated card has been developed to better ensure growers inspect the right-sized boll and is available from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“We have a dynamic or sliding threshold for stink bugs, and it represents the number of bolls at risk at a certain time of the season. I believe this is the best threshold we’ve ever had for cotton insects.

“We go by the week of bloom. At week two of bloom, for example, we really wouldn’t have many bolls out there that would be large enough to be damaged by stink bugs, so we can go with a higher threshold. As cotton cuts out, the susceptible bolls would be fewer and fewer. We know that the benefit of spraying for stink bugs comes in week three or week six of bloom.”

Stink bug pressure was low last year for a couple of reasons, says Smith.

“Last year, the winter temperatures were much colder than this year. We also had a hot, dry spring, and when stink bugs were reproducing, the immature ones didn’t fare well. Based on our most recent winter, we’ll probably be back to more normal stink bug pressure in 2012.

Looking at cotton insect pests that may be on the horizon, Smith says the kudzu bug, while not threatening to cotton, has emerged as a serious soybean pest and already is entrenched in neighboring Georgia.

“You can kill them with a pyrethroid, but their numbers come back very quickly,” he says.

Another species new to the region, the red-banded stink bug, is also primarily a soybean pest. One especially serious threat is the brown marmorated stink bug, which is moving from Pennsylvania into the Appalachian region and is threatening the fruit- and apple-growing regions of the Carolinas, according to Smith.