With our exceptionally warm winter and good moisture levels, at this point it looks like thrips flights into cotton should be both large and early this year.  

As most cotton producers in our area know from experience, the upper Southeast cotton production region could be designated as ‘Thrips Central’ for the Cotton Belt.

Our region has earned the distinction of having the highest levels of thrips and greatest potential damage to seedling cotton of anywhere in the U.S.

In some tests, with the help of a microscope, we sometimes count as many as 200 to 500 immature thrips per 5 seedlings!  That’s a “ton” of thrips, especially if seedlings are unprotected. So it’s probably not a surprise that Virginia and North Carolina have the highest ratio of surrounding host vegetation to small average cotton field size.          

As if our high thrips populations weren’t enough, our often cool spring conditions can limit early plant growth, exposing the susceptible cotyledon to two or three true leaf stage seedlings to thrips for extended periods. Thrips damage at this growth stage can result in significant yield losses and maturity delays.  

Unfortunately, our often cool wet seedling grow off conditions, coupled with the very high ratio of thrips host acreage to small average cotton field size, often seems to create a ‘perfect storm’ of thrips headaches, especially on early planed cotton.

In a series of 80 or so replicated tests conducted here and in Virginia during the past decade, untreated cotton lost an average of approximately 250 pounds of lint to thrips damage compared to the best at-planting treatments. That’s a lot of cotton lost to such a tiny insect.

Until the availability of the aldicarb Temik-like replacement Meymik arrives in 2013 (by no means certain), our common default approach will likely remain the use of a seed treatment with a follow-up spray targeted at the early first true leaf stage.

Most producers up our way would judge this treatment combination to be only fair, as high thrips levels and less than ideal growing conditions on April to approximately May 10 planted cotton can result in stunted cotton and yield losses.

In 2011, however, we had a few consultants who scouted seedling cotton carefully twice per week and didn’t recommend a foliar spray in some fields. Unfortunately, scouting cotton this closely is an exception.

Over the past eight years, more than 85 percent of our cotton acreage has been over-sprayed following a seed treatment.