Pink bollworm — the world’s most destructive cotton pest — started damaging Arizona cotton in the late 1960s. Today, however, it is on the verge of eradication in Arizona. This remarkable accomplishment is due to a combination of 100 percent Bt cotton, sterile PBW moth drops, and the use of PBW pheromones. One more year of a mandated PBW eradication effort in cotton areas along the Colorado River should put PBW on the extinction list.

“Growers in West Texas and New Mexico have been successful with the eradication of the pink bollworm,” says Bruce

Mexico has been key to the program, says Art. “They have not only agreed to participate in the eradication program, they have pushed it. I think they were ready for it before we were.”

There have been two key elements to banishing PBW: one was convincing the EPA to allow 100 percent Bt cotton with no refuges, and a provision to economically include non-Bt cotton growers in the program. Growers who don’t plant biotech cotton pay the same per acre price as the Bt technology fee ($32 per acre); in return, the program supplies pheromone ropes as a confusion technique and applies pesticide when necessary.

New technology like Bt cotton and IGRs will help Arizona cotton growers stay in business, the Heidens believe.

They continue moving forward with new technologies, such as GPS yield monitors and the two new John Deere 9996 cotton pickers they just purchased. Art says he will take it one step farther, working with University of Arizona precision ag specialist Pedro Anrade to develop new, more user-friendly multi-function monitors.

The farm already has two GPS tractor guidance systems used for listing out and cultivating. They have increased efficiency 10 percent to 15 percent for those field operations, Art says.

The same technology will be utilized in a study with UA cotton specialist Randy Norton, using variable rate technology to reduce the cost of pre-plant Telone for root-knot nematode control. Variable rates will be based on soil types.

“We hope this work will tell us where the nematodes are and where they aren’t, so we can vary the rate and not be forced to blanket the whole field,” Art says. He notes that per acre cost of the material has increased from $50 to $77.

“The cost of water in many areas is very high, and other input costs keep going up. We saw $1 cotton in 2008 and are seeing it again now, but overall the price has been low the past three or four years. It hasn’t been high enough to sustain cotton in Arizona,” Bruce says.

“How long will it stay at $1 is the big question,” says Art. “We’ve seen the market go crazy this year because of the limited supply of cotton in the world. The cure for limited cotton is $1 cotton, but everyone in the world will be planting cotton now.

“I feel good about the tools we have now to grow cotton. The ongoing issue is their cost.”

hcline@farmpress

cblake@farmpress