Matthew Casey

Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018

Farmers, officials celebrate demise of pink bollworm, a cotton crop-killing pest

PHOENIX – The pink bollworm has destroyed cotton crops in the United States for a century.

But it’s been eradicated from cotton-producing areas in the lower 48.

An undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture was in Arizona last month to celebrate the pests’ demise. The pink bollworm first invaded Texas in 1917, according to the USDA .

The insect eventually spread to Arizona . Pink bollworm has been the No. 1 pest for generations, said Kevin Rogers, executive vice president of the Arizona Cotton Growers Association.

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“In the past, we’ve spent upwards of $25 million a year trying to keep that pest at bay,” he said.

The pink bollworm eradication program took effect in the late 1990s, and cotton farmers taxed themselves to help pay for it, Rogers said.

“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,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement .

After the pest’s elimination, the USDA removed some restrictions on the domestic and international movement of U.S. cotton.

Cotton is one of Arizona’s five Cs. There are about 200,000 acres of cotton grown in Arizona, Rogers said.

“So we’ve seen the acres decrease some over time,” he said. “But then we see them surge back up as the market shows more demand and the price goes back up.”

Eradicating the pink bollworm is an opportunity for more Arizona farmers to grow cotton, Rogers said. But like with any other crop, the market will drive what farmers plant.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability , a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News , Arizona PBS , KJZZ , KPCC , Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal .

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