Working on Bertie County land their family has farmed for generations, cousins B.B. and John Griffin know a thing or two about growing cotton.

But, they say, when it comes to staying a step ahead of pests, diseases and other production challenges, they’ve come to rely on their Cooperative Extension agents and specialists for timely solutions.

To explain what they mean, the Griffins cite stink bugs, which have in recent years emerged as one of the most economically important cotton pests.

Today, virtually all North Carolina cotton is genetically engineered with the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis to control caterpillars. As caterpillars have declined, so has the need to apply insecticides — but with the drop in spraying has come a rise in stink bugs and other insects that aren’t susceptible to Bt.

B.B. Griffin notes that when stink bug problems began to emerge, scouts that growers hired to detect and deal with pest problems made inconsistent recommendations. No one, he says, knew when to spray to achieve the best level of control at the least cost and with the least environmental risk.

“Our scout might have us spraying, while somebody else with a different scout on land adjoining our field would say we are crazy to be spraying,” he says. “The growers didn’t know what to do.”