Tennessee Cotton Growers Escape Pest Problems

 

JACKSON, Tenn. — Tennessee cotton farmers’ decision not to plant a new, genetically-altered cotton plant this year is paying off, a University of Tennessee entomologist said Thursday.

Dr. Gary Lentz, cotton researcher at UT’s West Tennessee Experiment Station, said cotton crops last year were damaged by heavy infestation from a pest known as the tobacco budworm.

This year many growers in other states — expecting a repeat attack of tobacco budworm — planted a new strain of genetically-altered cotton called Bollgard.

Bollgard has a natural insecticide spliced into its genes to fight tobacco budworm, but it costs $32 more per acre than regular cotton varieties, Lentz said.

Farmers hoped to recover the extra expense through less pesticide costs and also thought Bollgard would provide protection from another pest known as the bollworm.

However, farmers in other cotton-growing states are finding that bollworms are feeding extensively on the genetically-altered cotton. Many growers are having to spray pesticides in addition to the higher initial costs.

Tennessee growers, however, have not had that problem so far this season, Lentz said.

Lentz said that last winter he advised Tennessee growers that 1995’s tobacco budworm infestation was not likely to happen again this year.

“We felt that storms and other factors caused infestation last year and the same conditions have not occurred this year,” Lentz said. “We felt that farmers would not need the Bollgard protection, which has higher production costs, and could save money.

“It looks like our prediction was right on target.”

Less than 2 percent of Tennessee’s cotton crop is the new Bollgard type, Lentz said. Other states grow considerably more. In North Alabama, for example, 95 percent of the cotton crop is Bollgard, he said.

Tennessee harvested 660,000 acres of cotton last year, Lentz said. The state is seventh in the nation in cotton production and among the states with the lowest production costs, he said.

Contact: Dr. Gary Lentz (901-424-1643)

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