Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that U.S. cotton is free — after more than 100 years — of the devastating pink bollworm. This pest has cost U.S. producers tens of millions of dollars in yearly control costs and yield losses.
Thanks to rigorous control and regulatory activities carried out by the USDA, state departments of agriculture, the U.S. cotton industry, and growers, pink bollworm has been eliminated from all cotton-producing areas in the continental United States. As a result, USDA is lifting the domestic quarantine for pink bollworm, relieving restrictions on the domestic and international movement of U.S. cotton.
“Removing pink bollworm regulations eases the movement of cotton to market both domestically and internationally because farmers will have fewer restrictions to deal with, like fumigation requirements. This welcome development comes just as cotton harvest is in full swing across the Southern United States,” said Secretary Perdue. “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. The coordinated effort demonstrates the value of partnership, investment, and putting our research close to and beside the farmers we serve.”
Pink bollworm was first detected in the United States in Hearne, Texas, in 1917. The invasive species feed on the cotton seeds and destroy the fibers of cotton, which reduce quality and crop yield. Extensive efforts by the Cooperative Extension Service in coordination with individual producers eliminated the infestation in Texas and an infestation found in Louisiana in 1919. In the 1930’s, the pest re-invaded the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. By the mid-1950’s, the pest had spread to surrounding states and eventually reached California in 1963.
In 1955, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) established domestic pink bollworm regulations. At the height of the program, 10 states (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Nevada, Mississippi, and Missouri) were quarantined for this pest. Many of these infestations were suppressed through cooperative federal, state, and industry programs. By 2003, only Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas remained under regulation.
Eradication of pink bollworm took years of committed research by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and included planting transgenic cotton, using insect pheromones to disrupt mating, releasing sterile insects to prevent reproduction, and extensive survey. Many of the research findings by ARS became management strategies used by APHIS and cotton growers in their battle against pink bollworm.
The United States is a world leader in cotton production and trade. According to industry estimates, the U.S. cotton industry accounts for nearly $27 billion in products and services annually, provides hundreds of thousands of jobs across many sectors, and supplies nearly one-third of the raw cotton that is traded globally.