Cotton production and the boll weevil in Georgia: history, cost of control, and benefits of eradication
Haney, P. B.
Lewis, W. J.
Lambert, W. R.
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Georgia’s history and cotton production have been inseparably woven together since 1733, when the colony was founded and cotton was first planted in Trustee’s Garden, near Savannah. The success of the Southeast Boll Weevil Eradication Program has played a major role in the recent revival of Georgia’s cotton industry. The boll weevil first appeared in Thomasville in 1915, and cotton production began declining rapidly, from a historical high of 2.8 million bales in 1914 to 600,000 bales in 1923. Aerial applications of calcium arsenate dust began in the early 1920s. This helped increase yields somewhat, but the \industry never really recovered, and overall production continued declining steadily for another 60 years. In 1983 Georgia produced only 112,000 bales on 115,000 harvested acres. The active treatment and trapping phase of the eradication program began in 1987 and was completed in 1990. Since then, cotton production has increased dramatically each year. Average yield has increased from 482 pounds per acre in the pre-eradication period (1971 to 1986) to 733 pounds per acre in the post-eradication period (1991 to 1995). Acreage has increased from an average of 228,000 to 770,000, and average gross crop revenues have increased from $70 million to $400 million per year. Net crop revenues (gross revenues less insect pest management costs and amount of damage) have increased from $187 to $451 per acre. In 1995 2.0 million bales were produced on 1.5 million harvested acres (59% more than in 1994 and the largest yield since 1919), with total revenues of about $720 million (the highest in Georgia’s history). Along with these economic benefits, the remarkable success of the eradication program has led to a significant decrease in insecticide use in Georgia cotton, and to substantial environmental benefits to growers and residents of the State. The average number of insecticide treatments have decreased from 14.4 per acre in the pre-eradication period to 5.4 per acre in the post-eradication period. In most cases, the materials used are more specific, and the amount of active ingredient applied during each treatment has been reduced from pounds per acre to a few ounces per acre. Also, a severe outbreak of the normally non-economic beet armyworm, Spodoptera exigua (Hubner), occurred between 1987 and 1989 following repeated aerial applications of guthion and malathion. This outbreak was followed by a rapid decline in beet armyworm densities immediately after the treatment phase was completed. This event provided a dramatic contrast between disruption of a formally minor pest caused by repeated insecticide applications versus effective biological control of the same pest by its natural enemies, in this case, the braconid parasitoid Cotesia marginiventris Cresson. The dual successes of the Southeast Boll Weevil Eradication Program and subsequent resumption of beet armyworm control by Cotesia helped generate renewed and widespread interest in biological control principals and provided a foundation for efforts to develop an economically and environmentally sustainable pest management program in Georgia cotton.