All posts by Sebe Brown, IPM Extension Specialist

Thrips Considerations in Cotton

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With warm conditions moving into West TN, many producers are well underway with cotton planting. Below are a few things to consider with regards to thrips control.

ThryvOn: ThryvOn is Bayer’s new Bt technology that has activity on thrips and plant bugs. ThryvOn cotton varieties are very effective against thrips and it is not anticipated that any fields will need foliar  treatments. ThryvOn will still have thrips present (adults and immatures) but insecticide applications should not be triggered on thrips numbers but damage level (Fig 1.). Applications should be initiated when plant damage is approaching 3 in figure 1. That being said, I’ve evaluated ThryvOn varieties for several years under excellent and terrible growing conditions and I as well as my colleagues across the cotton belt, have never recommended a foliar spray for thrips.

Thrips Damage Ratings (D. Cook MSU)
Thrips Damage Ratings (D. Cook MSU)

Insecticide Seed Treatments (ISTs): ISTs are the predominate control method for thrips in cotton. IST performance can be highly variable depending on weather conditions and thrips pressure. High thrips pressure and poor growing conditions will often necessitate the use of foliar sprays even with ISTs. Seed treatment packages typically come in a base (storage rate of imidacloprid + fungicide) and field rates of imidacloprid (these have several names) + fungicides, others may have nematicides, biologicals etc. Base treated seed may as well have no insecticide, the small stored product rate will offer almost no control of insects in the field. Standard options of imidacloprid (0.375 mg ai/seed) are the minimum needed for insect control in field cotton.

In-furrow: In-furrow liquid applications of imidacloprid are more effective than seed treatments; however, resistance development to neonicotinoids are diminishing the efficacy of imidacloprid in-furrow. Fields with in-furrow imidacloprid may still require a foliar spray under heavy thrips pressure. Granular AgLogic (aldicarb 15G) is highly effective against thrips populations and works like aldicarb should.

Foliar Spray Options: My recommendations are going to be limited for foliar sprays. Based on ongoing tobacco thrips resistance monitoring, to organophosphates (OPs), started by Scott Stewart several years ago, I am hesitant to recommend Orthene or Bidrin for thrips sprays. Resistance levels, in assayed populations from West TN, and the number of complaint calls I received last year are a good indication that OPs have limited use against our tobacco thrips populations. There may be areas where OP’s worked last year but it’s hard to say if they will work this year. That being said, Intrepid Edge at 3.0 fl oz/a is my go to for foliar thrips control. Although more expensive than the OPs, Intrepid Edge runs no risk of flaring mites or aphids and a surfactant has shown to increase efficacy (herbicide surfactants will work if you’re co-applying). Recolonization vs failure is another subject with foliar sprays. Presence of adults doesn’t mean the application didn’t work, adult thrips are always present on seedling cotton. Presence of immature thrips means adults are feeding and laying eggs and whatever control method you used is broken.

I am big believer in NCSU’s thrips predictor model We utilize the model to target planting when thrips numbers are highest, growers would do the opposite. Model runs for locations around West TN show that cotton planted May 1st through the 15th have a low to very low probability of experiencing large thrips populations. This is hopefully a welcome relief from years of cold, wet springs with large thrips populations plaguing our cotton. The warm, dryish weather will help germinate cotton quicker and standard ISTs may be enough to push us to the 4 true leaf stage (when thrips are typically no longer a concern) without a foliar spray.

UT Cotton Scout School (May 26, 2023)

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The UT Cotton Scout School is scheduled for the last Friday of the month, May 26th, at the West Tennessee Research and Education Center (605 Airways Blvd, Jackson). There is no fee, and preregistration is not required. Registration begins at 8:00 AM with the program starting at 8:30. Content will include classroom and hands-on training with an optional go-to-the-field session after lunch. Topics covered will include cotton development and identification and symptoms of insect pests, plant diseases, and weeds.

Breaking the Green Bridge

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As general rule, no-till production increases the risks from pests including slugs, cutworm, threecornered alfalfa hopper and several below ground pests such as wireworm and southern corn rootworm. Tillage is not an option in most of Tennessee’s agricultural landscape. This leads entomologists to recommend spring “burndown” applications 4 weeks in advance of planting. The goal is to “break the green bridge” or eliminate alternative hosts (weeds, cover crops) well before planting the cash crop.

However, making burndown applications 4 weeks prior to planting isn’t always possible or it doesn’t align with the goals of having cover crops. One way to help mitigate potential insect issues in late burndown is to add a pyrethroid insecticide with your herbicide application or within 7 days of planting. Beware blooming and pollinator attractive cover crops (vetch, brassica species) may have foraging honey bees and pyrethroids should not be utilized until the plants are not longer attractive to pollinators (desiccated or senescing from herbicides).

Utilizing insecticide seed treatments will offer protection against pest insects that may feed on your cash crop. If you are planting green (not burning down cover crops until after planting) I highly recommend a robust insecticide seed treatment and a pyrethroid insecticide that is included with the burndown herbicide. In corn this would be Poncho 500 or 1250, in soybeans Gaucho or Cruiser treated seed and in cotton Gaucho or Aeris based treatments will offer adequate protection from most below ground and some above ground pests. Keep in mind, seed treatment residual activity is strongly influenced by environmental factors, plant growth and amount of AI on the seed.

Cutworm and cut corn plant
Cutworm and cut corn plant

Cutworms in corn and cotton are uncommon but can be a serious pest. Pyrethroid applications within a week of planting will significantly reduce the risks of cutworm issues at low cost. Insecticide seed treatments are normally not enough to control cutworms and Bt traits in corn and cotton can offer mixed results depending on the traits. Three gene corn and cotton (those that include the Vip trait) provide better cutworm control than dual gene corn and cotton (V2TP, BG2 etc).

Overall, I like to see farmers planting in grave yard dead fields of weeds or cover crops but that isn’t always the case. Providing protection for your cash crop, at a relatively low expense, may help avoid the painful and costly decision to replant.


Soybean Looper Numbers Increasing

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I’ve received several calls about looper numbers increasing in soybeans across West Tennessee. Numbers range from 3 per 25 sweeps to 25 per 25 sweeps. Treatment is recommended when defoliation exceeds 20% from R1 to R6 or if looper numbers exceed 19 per 25 sweeps. It’s often suggested to ignore small worms (<1/2 inch) in these counts due to predators and entomopathogens taking a substantial toll on their survival.

Pyrethroid additions, at R3 fungicide timing, can exacerbate looper numbers and shouldn’t be included unless they are needed. This is one of the reasons I caution against including an automatic pyrethroid with fungicides at R3 and those applications won’t have any measurable impact on stink bug numbers when the beans hit R5. Loopers are one of the top pests encountered in late planted soybeans and are the most expensive to control. Further, I received word from my colleagues in Mississippi that low rates of diamides (1.2 fl oz/a Vantacor, 7.0 fl oz/a Besiege, 14.0 fl oz/a Prevathon) are providing unacceptable levels of control in large populations of loopers. This isn’t a surprise but take caution when utilizing diamides. Reports of diamide slippage on loopers has occurred for several years and more often than not, it occurs when low rates are utilized against high numbers (>1.5X threshold). Another product, Intrepid 2F (methoxyfenozide), has also had some control issues in Arkansas and Mississippi. Rates of 4.0 and 6.0 fl oz/a did not provide satisfactory control of loopers 7 days after application; however, Intrepid Edge (methoxyfenozide + spinetoram) performed very well. We have several insecticide options available at our disposal but if you’re facing large numbers, low rates of any product (especially the diamides) probably won’t cut it.

One final comment, don’t confuse soybean loopers with green cloverworms. Loopers have 2 pairs of prolegs cloverworms have 3 (see images below). Cloverworms are much easier to control than loopers and pyrethroids, as well as other insecticides, work well. Information on insecticide options for loopers can be found here:

Soybean Looper Larva
Soybean Looper Larva
Green Cloverworm Larva
Green Cloverworm Larva

Fall Armyworm Update

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I’ve been asked several times over the past week if armyworms are beginning to appear in Tennessee.  There are a FEW isolated cases of fall armyworms infesting crops planted for wildlife, mainly millet. The instance and number of worms being found thus far is normal. Tennessee will still have armyworms that migrate North and infest pastures, food plots and the occasional yard.  However, the wormageddon that happened in 2021 was a very unique event and will not occur yearly.

Fall Armyworms in Sweep Net
Fall Armyworms in Sweep Net

Fall armyworms don’t overwinter in Tennessee and populations migrate North from Texas and Florida every year. The difference in 2021 vs 2022 is the conditions that were occurring in April and May in South Texas. Texas experienced a warm and unseasonably wet spring that allowed for the proliferation of extremely large numbers of armyworms. Large numbers of moths plus ample food supply in pasture grasses, fallow grasses, yards and pretty much anywhere that had grass allowed this “army” to make its way North. Texas experienced outbreaks first followed by Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi then Tennessee with the moth flight culminating, in Canada, in November. I ask my colleagues, in Southern states, weekly if they are seeing any armyworms or anything resembling what happened in 2021 and the answer has consistently been no.

If we do see armyworms it shouldn’t be assumed that pyrethroids won’t be effective. We don’t fully understand why pyrethroids provided inconsistent control last year. Resistance is a possibility but overlapping generations causing mixing of various worm sizes resulting the appearance of poor control is another possibility. Finally, since armyworms don’t overwinter in Tennessee and there is no evidence of reverse migration, the armyworms we experienced last year won’t be the same ones we see this year.

One final note to homeowners, don’t fall for companies trying to sell you an “armyworm preventative” lawn treatment. Most products that are utilized for fall armyworm outbreaks, in lawns, have limited residual efficacy and shouldn’t be applied if armyworms aren’t present. Insecticide residual, even in a systemic product, grows out with your grass. If you mow your lawn on a regular basis any residual insecticide is mowed off and new growth isn’t protected. Applying an insecticide for an insect that isn’t there in the first place or may never show up, isn’t IPM and is a waste of money. Your county agent is an excellent resource for information pertaining to armyworm control in home lawns and pastures and won’t try to sell you anything.

Insect Numbers Increasing in Soybeans

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Insect infestations have been generally mild in soybeans thus far, but I am starting to get more calls about stink bugs and a few other pests. As other crops mature, including early maturing soybean fields, late season insect populations often concentrate in the green islands of soybeans in the field. This may include corn earworm infestations in our latest maturing fields.

Stink Bugs are the topic of most calls at this time.  Here are a few points to consider.

  1. Populations often start building rapidly at about R5.  It really doesn’t matter if you already sprayed a few weeks ago when applying a fungicide. Infestations often continue to build up to and past R7.
  2. Treatment for stink bugs is recommended when you average 9 or more insects per 25 sweeps until R6 (full seed in the top of the plant). The only caveat to this is the redbanded stink bug which has a threshold of 4/25 sweeps. I highly doubt we will experience redbanded stink bug infestations this year or if we do, it will be in the southern most counties in very late beans.
  3. You should double this threshold (18/25 sweeps) in next 7-10 days after fields reach R6.
  4. Green stink bugs have composed the majority of stink bugs we’ve found thus far. Pyrethroid insecticides such as Brigade and other bifenthrin products, Karate/Warrior, Mustang Max provide good control of green stink bugs. I would be more inclined to use Orthene/Acephate if brown stink bugs are usually common.

I’ve also received a few calls about worms in beans. So far, soybean loopers haven’t shown up on a large scale and most fields have a mix of loopers, cloverworms and other assorted worms. With worms in beans, coverage is typically more important than insecticide rate. Corn earworms respond to lower rates of diamides (Vantacor, Elevest, Besiege) in soybeans than in cotton. Similarly, Intrepid Edge is effective for corn earworms in beans but not particularly effective in cotton. Green cloverworms and velvetbean caterpillars are susceptible to pyrethroids and will often be removed by applications for stink bugs or other insects.  Soybean loopers may require higher rates of diamides due to resistance issues.  Soybean looper populations migrate from South/Central America every year and resistance levels are hard to predict, control level/duration often decreases with lower rates of diamides.

Like our stink bug threshold, the defoliation threshold in soybean should be relaxed from 20% to 30-35% once fields reach R6. Making an insecticide application for defoliating pests once you are 7-10 days past R6 is not recommended. Don’t spray for defoliators if fields are beginning to turn color and naturally defoliate.


Wrapping Up Insect Control in Cotton

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The bollworm flight has been in decline in several areas. Our trap catches have returned to single digits in several counties. A general decline in plant bug populations is also being observed, but stink bugs continue to linger. Some fields of cotton have now reached a maturity where we should and have terminated insecticide applications for plant bugs, stink bugs and bollworms. For later maturing fields, it may still be necessary to manage pest infestations for a couple of more weeks.

Keep in mind that the average last effective bloom date is upon us (August 15-20th). This is the average date that a white flower has a 50% chance of making a harvestable boll. It is a roll of the dice whether bolls set after this date have time to mature before a frost. For late maturing fields that are just now or have not reached NAWF5, it is still advisable to continue to good insect management practices for 2-3 weeks to allow these last bolls to accumulate enough heat units to be relatively safe from insect attack.

  • Insecticide applications for plant bugs can be terminated when cotton has accumulated 250-300 DD60s past NAWF5 (NAWF5 = average of 5 nodes above a first position white flower).
  • Insecticide applications for stink bugs can be terminated when cotton has accumulated 400-450 DD60s past NAWF5. However, fields free of stink bugs at 350 DD60s past NAWF5 are unlikely to develop economically damaging infestation after this point.

With the above considerations in mind, producers can potentially relax thresholds since we’ve reached the last effective bloom date.

  1. The last effective bloom date mentioned above represent a 50% chance that a new boll will make it into the picker. Thus, there is a pretty good chance these bolls will not contribute to yield.
  2. The upper, less mature bolls typically are smaller in size and number and represent a relatively small proportion of the overall yield. This assumes average or better boll retention on the bottom two-thirds of the plants.

My suggestion from this point forward is to pay better attention to stink bug and active bollworm infestations than to plant bugs. Stink bugs and bollworms are more likely to injure bolls. Spending a lot of money to protect squares and small bolls from plant bugs at this late date is a questionable decision. Of course, we have some built in protection from bollworm because almost everything is Bt Cotton. However, Bollgard 2 cotton in particular does not always provide adequate protection against moderate to heavy infestations, and insecticide applications may be justified. Bollgard 3 and Widestrike 3 cotton varieties have held up well this year, however; Bt expression can also decrease at cutout and beyond. Keep an eye on fruit damaged potentially damaged by bollworms out to NAWF5 + 400 DD60’s. Final clean up shots need to have a pyrethroid, OP or combination of the two to take care of stink bugs, plant bugs and potentially catch a stray worm in the top.

Bollworm/Budworm Moth Trap Catches (8/12)

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Weekly Moth Trap Data
Date: 8/12
Location Bollworm Tobacco Budworm
Hardeman (Bolivar) 2 1
Fayette (Whiteville) 3 0
Fayette (Somerville) 0 0
Shelby (Millington) 13 16
Tipton (Covington) 0 0
Tipton (North) 0 0
Lauderdale (Goldust) 53 14
Haywood (West) 3 0
Haywood (Brownsville) 1 0
Madison (WTREC) 23 0
Madison (North) 1 2
Crockett (Alamo) 0 1
Crockett (Maury City) 1 0
Dyer (Kings Rd) 13 3
Dyer (Newbern) 1 4
Lake (Ridgely) 3 35
Gibson (Kenton) 11 2
Gibson (Milan REC) 3 1
Carroll (Atwood) 29 3