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Boll Weevils, Cotton Enter Home Stretch
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cotton farmers and their nemesis, the boll weevil, begin their traditional fall routines with 1998 on their minds.
The verdict is still out on 1997's crop which battled all season to overcome late plantings in cool, wet conditions.
Dr. Blake Layton, extension cotton entomologist at Mississippi State University, described the state's crop as "the most erratic crop we've ever seen." Still, he said Mississippi growers should harvest a better-than-average crop.
"Most growers have done an excellent job of keeping insect pressure to a minimum by responding quickly and effectively to protect their crop," Layton said.
With the '97 crop nearing harvest time, some attention is turning to factors that will impact next year's crop. Boll weevil numbers are making their normal fall buildup before going into diapause (the overwintering stage), according to results from statewide traps.
Mike Williams, extension entomologist at MSU, keeps a close watch on the state's insect traps. He said the increase in boll weevils the last of August and first of September indicates a search for alternative food sources.
"Cotton has reached a stage where it is not as appealing to boll weevils so they are moving elsewhere," Williams said. "We also can assume they are moving out of cotton fields into areas for overwintering, but those weevils would not be as attracted to the traps."
Layton said fall weevils have a minor impact on the current crop, but if untreated, could emerge after a mild winter to torment growers next spring. As a result of boll weevil eradication efforts that began the first of August in Mississippi's hill cotton, those fields are almost weevil-free, significantly below normal.
There are several practices all growers can employ to help reduce next year's weevil numbers and treatments.
"Where conditions allow it, growers can choose a defoliation treatment that will eliminate immature fruit and inhibit regrowth," Layton said. "That's a method many growers don't realize will help reduce boll weevils next spring by depriving them of their fall food sources."
Other options include adding a diapause spray to the defoliation material and destroying cotton stalks as soon as possible.
Sharkey County's agricultural extension agent John Coccaro said the poor prospect for an excellent profit is causing fewer farmers to consider any additional expenses such as diapause treatments.
"Farmers are looking at prices around 72 cents when they want at least 80 cents. Since they're not expecting more than a so-so cotton crop, corn is looking more attractive for next year," Coccaro said. "A lot of farmers will wait and see how cold the winter is before they make a planting decision. Basically, I think we will be looking at another year in 1998 of reduced cotton acres."