Cotton IPM: A Decade of Reduced Insecticide Use in Arizona

Enhance Economic Opportunities for Agricultural Producers
Research Year: 

At one time, insecticide applications in cotton typically accounted for about half of all insecticide use in the United States. New materials on the market are now enabling cotton growers to reduce their spray applications while maintaining competitive yields. These technologies also help growers implement more ecologically-based IPM programs and become less dependent on broadly toxic insecticides.

Description of Action: 

An integrated pest management program in Arizona has implemented two new tools for the last 11 years (in 1996 and continued their use through 2006): insect growth regulators (IGRs, effective against whiteflies) and transgenic cotton (containing Bt effective against pink bollworms). The University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences collaborated with growers, the USDA, the Arizona Department of Agriculture, the Arizona Cotton Growers' Association, Cotton Incorporated, industry and others. Both of these tools are highly effective against pests, but safe to humans and the environment. Based on insect hormones, growth regulators disrupt the growth and development of insects. Transgenic cotton is genetically engineered to carry its own biological insecticide, targeting lepidopterous pests, within the plant tissues. Both technologies kill their target pests while allowing natural processes to play a larger role in the control of all other insects.


Nearly 100 percent of the cotton acreage in Arizona was sprayed multiple times for pink bollworm and silverleaf whitefly in 1995. By 2006, more than a decade of comprehensive integrated pest management in the state decreased the total pesticide applications for whiteflies, pink bollworm and Lygus bug by 60%, a reduction of more than 1.6 million pounds of pesticide. Large-scale adoption of IPM programs by cotton growers has reduced insecticide usage and lowered exposure risks to farm workers, growers and the public.

In 1995, cotton growers sprayed on average 12.5 times with broadly toxic insecticides totaling1,709,000 pounds By 2006, cotton growers sprayed just 1.3 times with safer compounds totaling less than 80,000 pounds, a 20-fold reduction in insecticide use. Growers saved over $140 million in pesticide costs and reduced damage by over 11%. Annual cotton acreage in Arizona is usually around 200,000 acres.

The year 2006 represented the lowest annual insecticide usage and lowest yield losses to insects in Arizona cotton in 28 years. Almost half of the state's cotton acreage was never sprayed for insect pests, less than 25% for Lygus bugs and less than 5% for pink bollworm. Growers relied more on selective control technologies that are compatible with natural controls. When insecticides were used, growers chose reduced risk products that are safer for applicators and for the environment.

Along with resistance management, these IPM efforts reduced insecticide use, conserved biological control agents, and enhanced sustainability and profitability. The availability of these selected technologies, which are harmless to predaceous insects, has provided growers the opportunity to employ IPM practices that enhance the population levels of beneficial insects in the field and created area-wide benefits for all producers. Furthermore, these plans have been exported for use in California, Texas, northern Mexico and Latin America.

Funding Agencies: 

Hatch Act, Smith-Lever 3(b) & (c), Special Research Grants
Smith-Lever 3(d) (e.g., IPM), Western Region IPM; Pest Management Alternatives Program; Cotton Incorporated; Arizona Cotton Growers Association; Agrochemical Industry; Western IPM Center (CSREES); Arizona Pest Management Center; Crop Insect Loss and Impact Assessment Working Group (UA)

Conact Name: 
Peter Ellsworth
Contact E-mail: 
Contact Address: 

Maricopa Agricultural Center

37860 W. Smith-Enke Road

Maricopa, AZ 85239-3010

Tel: (520) 568-2273; FAX: (520) 568-2556