Conquering Cotton Pests

The boll weevil is a pest that devastates cotton plants by feeding on its buds and flowers. Native to Central Mexico, the beetle spread throughout the southwest by the 1920s and nearly destroyed the entire cotton industry. Since arrival in the U.S., the boll weevil has cost over $23 billion in economic losses.

In the 1970s, the USDA launched a major boll weevil eradication program in partnership with farmers. The program developed techniques including using pheromone traps and chemical treatments, as well as modifying habitats. By 2014, the pest had been eliminated from all U.S. cotton-growing areas except a few parts of Texas.

The economic benefits of boll weevil eradication have been dramatic. For example, Georgia’s average gross crop revenues between 1987 and 2000 increased from $70 million per year prior to eradication to $400 million per year afterwards. In Georgia, this protected 53,000 cotton-related industry jobs. Eradication has allowed growers to rebuild our nation’s cotton industry.  

Retaking The Field Volume 5 “Retaking the Field Volume 5: Innovation to Profit” explores how federally funded agricultural research strengthens farmers and ranchers’ bottomline by reducing costs and risks, increasing profits, and laying the groundwork for new products and industries. With powerful examples from universities across the country, it describes how research can generate outsized economic benefits that extends for decades. View The Issue
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