Monday, October 3, 2016

The Sticky Cotton Threat Ain’t Over Till Defoliation Is Over

Yankee great Yogi Berra.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

For baseball fans, it’s a popular rally cry popularized by the late New York Yankee baseball great Yogi Berra to never give up until the last out is made. For music fans, it’s the title of a Lenny Kravitz song about keeping relationships alive.

For Valley cotton growers this time of year, it’s a strong reminder to remain vigilant about sticky cotton until the plants dry up after defoliation and aphid and whitefly populations go away.
Whiteflies on a cotton plant leaf.
“The pests are still relevant. The numbers can really blow up in a few days,” field scout Carlos Silva says.

Whiteflies and aphids feed on the plant sap and then excrete sweet, sticky honeydew that gets on open cotton bolls. The sticky cotton will gum up machinery in ginning and spinning mills, bringing operations to a sudden halt.

Sticky cotton is a real threat to the industry, which has spent millions in the past to control whiteflies and aphids.
Sticky cotton can gum up mill machinery.

From 1992 to 2001, for example, California growers spent $220 million to combat sticky cotton. Studies indicate sticky cotton can reduce prices by 3 to 5 cents a pound.

It was a dozen years ago when a number of Valley growers ignored the late-season pest threat and their harvested sticky cotton created quite a stir among mills worldwide. The Valley’s reputation for producing high quality cotton, especially Pima – the Cadillac of cotton – was at stake.

As a result, UC IPM advisor Dr. Pete Goodell and other University of California experts gathered growers and pest control advisors for talks about how to economically control whitefly without building up pesticide resistance or resorting to expensive treatment programs. 

This season Carlos has found only a few fields with moderate whitefly and aphid counts and evidenceof honeydew build up on the fluffy cotton.  “One farmer had to treat his field,” Carlos points out.
Defoliation warning sign.
.Fortunately, the pest populations have been relatively low in the fields that Carlos monitors weekly. The threat will lessen as more fields are defoliated.  (Carlos notes that a few fields were being harvested last week.)

For those growers still waiting to defoliate, though, the threat of sticky cotton “ain’t over till it’s over.”

Meanwhile, Carlos reports alfalfa growers are winding up their season. Some fields are still being irrigated. In other fields, the alfalfa plants are measuring up to 15 inches tall and are couple weeks from harvest.

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