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Lygus losses in Calif. cotton could equal last year

State approves special use permit for pesticide.

Todd Fitchette, Associate Editor

July 11, 2024

3 Min Read
California cotton
California cotton fields are once again under attack by an insect blamed for $38 million in losses last year. A trade association representing cotton farmers is blaming California regulators for not granting emergency approval of a useful insecticide to control lygus.Todd Fitchette

California cotton growers were just granted Special Local Needs Section 24c approval for Sefina Inscalis (active ingredient afidopyropen) by the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to combat another bad year for lygus damage.

The decision came as California industry leaders continue to seek emergency approval for Transform (active ingredient sulfoxaflor), which the state once allowed, but has since been banned by a superior court judge.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” said California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association President Roger Isom of the DPR decision on Sefina, though he says it may help.

The California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association (CCGGA) says this year’s lygus infestation across the San Joaquin Valley growing region could be as bad or worse than last year, which cost the state’s cotton growers an estimated $38 million in lost production. Lygus is an insect that feeds on cotton bolls, causing them to drop from the plant.

Isom said California successfully and legally used sulfoxaflor from 2017 through 2020 until the Environmental Protection Agency issued a full registration for the product in all states but California, which has its own regulatory standards for pesticide approval. That ended California’s ability to use the product it had safely and effectively used for several seasons, he said. Nevertheless, Isom argues that the DPR director has the authority to grant emergency use of the product farmers safely used for several years.

In 2021 a California superior court banned sulfoxaflor in California after environmental groups successfully claimed that DPR failed to consider the pesticide’s impacts on bees when licensing it for use in California.

Sefina Inscalis is said to be strong on targeted insects, but gentle on pollinators and beneficial insects. Environmental groups argued in their suit against DPR in 2021 that Transform is not, and the court agreed.

Considerable losses

Aaron Barcellos, a cotton grower who farms near Los Banos, California, said he lost considerable yields last year in his Pima cotton due to lygus. Even with existing insecticides, growers are treating their crops as much as a dozen times per year with little effect from other approved products. If he was able to use Transform, Barcellos says he could control the pest with 2-3 treatments during the growing season.

“We had a 120-acre block of cotton last year produce less than a bale per acre,” he said. “We should have just walked away from it and not picked it.”

Well-managed Pima cotton where Barcellos farms can easily produce over three bales per acre under the right conditions.

California cotton yields were down more than 500 pounds per acre last year, on average. About 3,000 acres of cotton was abandoned in the state last year because of insect damage, according to a statement from CCGGA.

California’s cotton industry is predominantly made up of Pima cotton, a higher value cotton that is used in fine clothing and linens. Last year’s harvested cotton acreage in California failed to reach 100,000, the lowest it had been in decades.

California cotton growers have already sprayed multiple times as of early July to combat lygus, Isom said.

Current cotton acreage in California is about 170,000, according to the USDA.

About the Author(s)

Todd Fitchette

Associate Editor, Western Farm Press

Todd Fitchette, associate editor with Western Farm Press, spent much of his journalism career covering agriculture in California and the western United States. Aside from reporting about issues related to farm production, environmental regulations and legislative matters, he has extensive experience covering the dairy industry, western water issues and politics. His journalistic experience includes local daily and weekly newspapers, where he was recognized early in his career as an award-winning news photographer.

Fitchette is US Army veteran and a graduate of California State University, Chico. 

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