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Bye-Bye Pink Bollworm and Millions in Costs to US Cotton Growers

After 100 years, U.S. cotton is free of the devastating pink bollworm moth that has cost producers tens of millions of dollars in yearly control costs and yield losses, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced.

The eradication came about through rigorous control and regulatory activities carried out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), state departments of agriculture, the cotton industry and farmers. With pink bollworm now eliminated from all cotton-producing areas in the continental U.S., the USDA said it is lifting the domestic quarantine for pink bollworm, relieving restrictions on domestic and international movement of U.S. cotton.

“Removing pink bollworm regulations eases the movement of cotton to market both domestically and internationally because farmers will have fewer restrictions to deal with, like fumigation requirements,” Perdue said. “This welcome development comes just as cotton harvest is in full swing across the southern United States. Cotton growers were critical to this success, banding together to carry out a coordinated, multi-state program and shouldering 80 percent of the program’s cost. The coordinated effort demonstrates the value of partnership, investment and putting our research close to and beside the farmers we serve.”

Pink bollworm was first detected in the U.S. in Hearne, Texas, in 1917, the USDA noted. Extensive efforts by the Cooperative Extension Service in concert with individual producers eliminated the infestation in Texas and an infestation found in Louisiana in 1919. In the 1930s, the pest re-invaded the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. By the mid-1950s, the pink bollworm had spread to surrounding states and eventually reached California in 1963.

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In 1955, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) established domestic pink bollworm regulations. At the height of the program, 10 states—Arizona, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas—were quarantined for the pest. Many of these infestations were suppressed through cooperative federal, state and industry programs, and by 2003, only Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas remained under regulation.

The USDA explained that eradication of pink bollworm took years of committed research by its Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and included planting transgenic cotton, using insect pheromones to disrupt mating, releasing sterile insects to prevent reproduction and extensive survey. Many of the research findings by ARS became management strategies used by APHIS and cotton growers in their battle against pink bollworm.

The U.S. is a world leader in cotton production and trade. According to industry estimates, the U.S. cotton industry accounts for nearly $27 billion in products and services annually, provides hundreds of thousands of jobs across many sectors and supplies nearly one-third of the raw cotton traded globally.