"Lunch", by Von Warner
Over 100 different types of pests attack cotton which makes crop protection an important part of a cotton grower’s job. If these “bad” bugs are left unmanaged, the crop is badly damaged and major yield and quality losses are the result.
A range of methods are used, with a big focus on reducing the need for chemicals. In fact Australia’s cotton growers have reduced their chemical use by over 90% in the last decade, with some cotton crops not sprayed for pests at all these days.
Today’s modern cotton farmer uses much “softer” chemicals to target particular insects and a range of natural and chemical techniques to control pests as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system. This can include encouraging “good” bugs like spiders and ladybirds into the crop to eat the “baddies”, pupae busting to destroy insect larvae and biological controls.
Pest control is a major focus of the cotton industry’s environmental program called myBMP, which sets out the latest research and best practice guidelines for controlling insects.
The introduction of cotton with transgenic traits has been a key reason for the massive reduction in pesticide reliance in the Australian cotton industry. Most cotton plants grown in Australia contains an inserted protein (Bt) that is lethal to the heliothis caterpillar (cotton’s Number 1 pest). In other words the pesticide is cleverly built into the plant, rather than being sprayed on the crop.
Chemicals are expensive, unpleasant to use and require serious safety training and procedures – for these and the obvious environmental reasons, cotton growers try to reduce their reliance on chemicals as much as possible.