Sponsored By
Farm Progress

Old World bollworm could threaten U.S. cotton, other cropsOld World bollworm could threaten U.S. cotton, other crops

Old World bollworm could threaten U.S. Cotton, other cropsPest has been identified in FloridaSignificant pest in other parts of the world 

Ron Smith 1

December 11, 2015

2 Min Read
<p>Greg Sword, Texas AgriLife entomologist, discusses the Old World bollworm at the recent Texas Plant Protection Association conference.</p>

Old World bollworm, a new and potentially devastating insect pest of U.S. cotton and other crops, has been identified in Florida. It was discovered in Brazil in 2013, in Puerto Rico in 2014, and a few individuals were identified in Florida earlier this year.

“This is a severe economic pest in most places where it is established,” says Greg Sword, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension entomologist, who discussed the possibility of it becoming a significant pest in cotton,  soybeans, wheat, small grains, and other  U.S. crops during the cotton segment of the Texas Plant Protection Association’s 27th annual conference in Bryan, Texas.

“The Old World bollworm is one of the world’s most destructive agricultural pests,” he says. “It is the target of more than 75 percent of all insecticides applied in India and China.”

Managing the pest could be complicated, Sword says, since the Old World bollworm has “known markers for pyrethroids resistance.” It also hybridizes easily with the bollworm U.S. farmers are already familiar with, and the two are difficult to differentiate. “We can’t tell the females of the two species apart,” he says, “and we have to dissect males to differentiate them. We could be looking at a genome invasion instead of an invasive species.”


It is a widely adaptable pest, feeding on more than 200 different plant species, and could be adaptable across more than half of the United States. Sword says the few Old World bollworm specimens found in Florida “failed to establish,” but wonders if hybridization may have already occurred.

He thinks the pest is coming, and that positive identification will test integrated pest management techniques. “We may have to monitor at the genome level,” he says. “Genetic testing is costly. But the risks and costs are not specific to cotton — this is everyone’s problem.”

Research funding is scarce, however, since the pest is one that may or may not invade U.S. crops. “Personnel, products, and logistics are lacking for a major response,” Sword says. Preparation includes monitoring. “APHIS is involved, and does have a regulatory response system in place.”

He doesn’t expect much advance warning. “Problems are likely to just show up — and we do risk a significant increase in insecticide use.”

For the latest on southwest agriculture, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.

Biocontrol may be one control option, he says. “Also, we hope to slow the spread in Central and South America. We hope to learn from our neighbors: How have they controlled Old World bollworm?”

Sword says preparation also include screening the efficacy of major IPM tools, Bt varieties, biological controls, cultural practices, and available insecticides.

It’s not panic time, he says. “Plenty of people in other parts of the world grow crops successfully in the presence of this pest.”

About the Author(s)

Ron Smith 1

Senior Content Director, Farm Press/Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 40 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. More recently, he was awarded the Norman Borlaug Lifetime Achievement Award by the Texas Plant Protection Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Johnson City, Tenn. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and three grandsons, Aaron, Hunter and Walker.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like