Developing Insect-Pest Management Strategies in Water-Deficit Cotton Production Systems: Management Recommendations for Production Sustainability
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Texas and Georgia are the two leading cotton producing states in the United States with 55% and 12% of the total U.S. cotton acreage occurring in these two states, respectively. In Texas, 65% of the state's 7 million acres of cotton is concentrated in the semi-arid Texas High Plains (THP) region, with 4.6 million acres planted and 6.4 million bales harvested in 2017. A 7-year average (2009-2015) cotton production statistic shows that approximately 55% of United States cotton is produced in Texas, while 69% of Texas cotton is produced in the High Plains region of Texas. These data indicate that 38% of U.S. cotton is produced in the High Plains, which constitutes the most concentrated area of cotton production in the world. Declining water availability from the Ogallala Aquifer means that the current cotton production is largely characterized as either limited-irrigation or dryland. As such, cotton in THP may receive some irrigation, but may experience variable periods of drought stress.Southern Georgia is also a concentrated cotton region with 60% of Georgia cotton acreage in the coastal plain, which resembles the Texas High Plains in terms of cotton pest management issues, declining water availability, and cotton production profitability. Cotton insect pest management cost, including arthropod-induced yield loss, accounting for $353 million annually, significantly contributes to the overall cotton production profitability in both states. However, climatic conditions, cropping system landscape, cotton production practices, and inputs differ widely between THP and Southern Georgia. Despite progress towards a more integrated cross-disciplinary approach in farming enterprises, our agriculture still operates in a compartmentalized manner such that pest management practices are done separately from crop production, and economics of integrated cropping systems are not well-defined.Consequently, most producers do not possess the necessary decision-support tools for economically profitable input use in their overall crop management practices. Here, the impact of two key insect-pests at two distinct cotton phenological stages (thrips - seedling stage and Lygus/stink bug - boll development stage) will be evaluated with four combinations of single versus multiple-species infestations under three water-deficit (zero, medium, high) conditions (total of twelve pest management scenarios). A multi-disciplinary research will enable development of research-based action thresholds considering variable yield potential under different water deficit scenarios. Action thresholds provide decision support to make management decisions and are an important component of IPM. Producer decisions are complicated by uncertainty of production risks posed by the interaction of biotic (pests) and abiotic (water) factors. Because thrips and Lygus/stink bug insect pests occur in cotton sequentially, we will systematically examine population dynamics and damage potential of each species independently or in combination. To optimize crop production with limited water, yield losses due to insect pests must be managed in effective and economical ways under changing production systems. The overall goal of this project is to maximize profitable cotton production with declining irrigation capacity, while managing major insect pests based on economic profitability models.