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The pesticide toolbox available to cotton growers has grown smaller over the years. Losing tools from undue regulations or resistance pressure are major concerns.

Brad Haire, Executive Editor

August 19, 2022

4 Min Read
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Staff from the EPA take notes and pictures of cotton weed research on a University of Georgia farm in south Georgia.Brad Haire

In mid-August, EPA staffers visited Georgia cotton farmers to hear how and why farmers need and use pesticides.

The National Cotton Council coordinated the visit as part of The Cotton Foundation’s 2022 Educational Outreach Program. The seven staffers came from the chemical safety, pesticide programs and other EPA departments. They are scientists in their fields. They collect and analyze data and make regulatory decisions on agricultural chemistries.

“Herbicide resistance, for example, is a growing threat to efficient cotton production, particularly in the Southeast and Midsouth regions of the Cotton Belt,” said Don Parker, the NCC’s vice president of technical services and Cotton Foundation executive director. “The goal was for these EPA staffers to gain a more thorough understanding of the challenges U.S. cotton producers face and the creative strategies they employ in managing weeds, insects, nematodes and diseases. That includes the prudent use of pesticides and other environmentally-sensitive farming practices.”

NCC partnered with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and Georgia Cotton Commission for the three-day tour where the staffers visited a half dozen farms and UGA research trials in south Georgia. Don Parker, NCC staff, Taylor Sills, executive director of the Georgia Cotton Commission, and UGA Extension weed specialist Stanley Culpepper guided the staffers.

Parker said a key goal of the tour was to improve staffers understanding of how farmers grow cotton and use pesticides. The pesticide toolbox available to cotton growers has grown smaller over the years. Losing tools from undue regulations or resistance pressure are major concerns.

Over the last year or so, the regulatory environment for agriculture chemistries has heated up. For cotton growers particularly, diuron, dicamba and Cotoran are on the regulatory radar. Practical future on-farm uses of these chemistries are not guaranteed.

First day of the tour, the staffers visited the first site in Georgia (and the world) to confirm glyphosate-resistant pigweed, which occurred more than two decades ago and visited Matt Coley, vice-chairman of the Georgia Cotton Commission, in Vienna, Ga.

On day two, the group visited a large vegetable growing operation that also grows cotton and peanuts in Tifton, Ga. They also had a productive conversation with Clay Young, who farms in Worth County, and Wendell Sumner, who farms in Tift County.

Day three, the tour stopped in Colquitt County to hear from Bart Davis, the chairman of the Georgia Cotton Commission, Terrell County to hear from Ronnie Lee, longtime leader in the cotton industry, and Calhoun County to hear from Mike Newberry and Jimmy Webb, both also cotton leaders.

Each operation the staffers visited was similarly diversified, growing corn, cotton, peanuts, soybeans and other commodities, but the staffers saw how each operation must uniquely tweak weed management, due to soil types, crop rotations and other cultural practices.

Here are a few takeaways from the tour:

  • The top two most-economically damaging weeds for Georgia cotton are “pigweed and pigweed.”

  • Economically sustainable weed management requires a systems approach, including multiple modes of actions of timely effective pre and post emergence herbicide applications.

  • Pesticides provide a path for real-farm conservation practices.

  • Losing key herbicide tools currently available would jeopardize conservation practices, resistance management strategies and farm sustainability.

  • Farmers and farmer-led groups want a closer working relationship with EPA.

 

 

 

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