Alabama Cotton: How Did Insects Impact This Year’s Crop?

Stink bug in cotton. Photo: Kate Harrell, County Extension Agent- Integrated Pest Management

Alabama was expected to yield in the neighborhood of 900 lb/A statewide prior to Hurricane Sally. However, even before Sally numerous cloudy, wet days had already caused some level of hardlock/boll rot. The area impacted by the above was concentrated in the southern one-third of the state where about 42 percent of Alabama’s acreage is planted. The highest yields in 2020 will likely come from the central and western areas of the state, which plants about 23 percent of the total acreage.

Insects were not a major limiting factor in yield losses this season. Numerous insects required attention, but no one particular species dominated the scene. In fact, several minor pests caused as much concern as our more major insects. Looking back, here is what was observed and experienced.

Grasshopper feeding was a major concern to seedling cotton on the sandier soils (about 60 to 70 percent of planted acreage) statewide. Several fields or areas of fields had to be replanted due to grasshopper damage to seedling plants. This resulted in management problems all season due to different ages of cotton in numerous fields.

Thrips numbers were heavy and numbers extended throughout a long planting window. Even late-planted cotton required a foliar spray on top of our seed treatments. Pests such as snails and slugs also were major concerns in some fields, some of which resulted in replanting.

Adult plant bugs moved into fields in June and were heaviest in earlier planted fields. Significant acreages were treated for these adults and later for the immature offspring in July to August. Aphids occurred later than normal and were sporadic in occurrence. Escape bollworms were almost nonexistent over most of the state, and scouts/fieldmen had to search hard to find sub-threshold levels at any point in the season. However, bollworm moths were abundant in pheromone traps at certain points in the season statewide.

Spider mites presented problems during extended dry periods from June until August. Treatments were required. Control decisions on these pests are some of the most difficult to make for growers or advisors.

Stink bugs were not as damaging as expected following a mild winter. However, economic numbers of the southern green species appeared unexpectedly in southern fields in September. It was not certain where they migrated from, but pecan orchards or old abandoned pecans trees are suspect. The brown marmorated species was noticeably lighter than in recent seasons. In the end, the bug complex (plant bugs and stink bugs) were our most damaging insects statewide in 2020.

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This 2020 season will be the final season for me as an Extension entomologist. I have attempted to be on top of the Alabama cotton insect situation through the good years and the bad since 1972 (48 seasons). To give some perspective to that time – Richard Nixon was president and the Vietnam War was still on-going.

My replacement is already on board, and many of you have met him already or read his releases this season (tweets, newsletters, etc.). Dr. Scott Graham is a Mississippi native and holds row crop entomology degrees from Mississippi State and the University of Tennessee, working under the direction of several of the most prominent cotton entomologists in the U.S. He has already demonstrated that he is a most capable entomologist and will do a great job in this position in future years.

My plans are to stay up to date in row crop insects and continue with the same phone number: 334-332-9501. I hope to continue crossing paths with many of you for a few more years in agricultural or Extension meetings. In summary, it has been a busy but rewarding career highlighted by the many friendships I have made.




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