In the vast world of cotton farming, a move towards sustainability is reshaping agricultural practices. Peter Ellsworth, faculty member of the Department of Entomology at the College of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences, and Director of the Arizona Pest Management Center, and Al Fournier, Integrated Pest Management Program Manager & Associate Extension Specialist in Entomology at the Cooperative Extension, along with their dedicated team, recently received a significant grant from Better Cotton and garnered recognition for their recent field day, showcasing innovative pest management practices that reduce insecticide use.
Through their work, Ellsworth and Fournier shed light on the transformative approach of Integrated Pest Management (IPM)—an approach to pest control that uses multiple strategies to manage and minimize the impact of pests on crops. Their main objective is to alter and enhance people's lives through the practical application of knowledge.
“Faculty and staff at the Arizona Pest Management Center help generate knowledge and build integrated pest management programs that can be deployed in the real world,” said Ellsworth. “We have groups that work with agricultural stakeholders, producers, and growers, and we have people that work with communities on public and environmental health issues. IPM touches pretty much everybody in all walks of life.”
The team received a grant from Better Cotton, a leading sustainability certifier in the cotton industry. With this grant, Ellsworth, and Fournier plan to collaborate closely with Better Cotton to examine pest challenges in different regions and find alternatives to highly hazardous pesticides. They will also review and assess pesticide data collected by Better Cotton from licensed growers to help improve record keeping practices, with aim of measuring progress toward sustainability goals. In addition, the team will conduct on-farm research and outreach education on sustainable pest management, focusing on conserving biological control, to encourage growers to adopt and shift towards more sustainable practices.
“In figuring out if we're going to get rid of these highly hazardous chemicals, it’s important to know what pests they are controlling and in which part of the country, and what alternatives exist,” said Fournier. “There's a lot of work to be done throughout the cotton belt to be able to advise Better Cotton on how to eliminate the more hazardous pesticides without creating a huge economic risk for the grower.”
At the Better Cotton field day event, the team demonstrated advanced IPM techniques on a certified Ak-Chin tribal farm. The team addressed key insect pests in cotton, such as lygus bugs and white flies, and showcased a genetically engineered cotton variety called ThryvOn Cotton. This hands-on event served as a platform to showcase the applications of sustainable pest management, and the success of the event was evident in the farm's season-long freedom from pesticide applications.