Cotton IPM: Reducing Insecticide Use, Maintaining Yields in Arizona

Research Year: 

During the mid-90s, insecticide applications in cotton typically accounted for about half of all insecticide use in the United States. In 1995, nearly 100 percent of Arizona’s cotton acreage was sprayed multiple times for pink bollworm and silverleaf whitefly. New technologies have enabled cotton growers to reduce their spray applications significantly while maintaining competitive yields. These technologies also help growers implement more ecologically-based, sustainable IPM programs and become less dependent on broadly toxic insecticides.

Description of Action: 

An integrated pest management program (IPM) established in Arizona in 1996, refined in 2006, and continued through today uses insect growth regulators (IGRs—effective against whiteflies), transgenic cotton (with Bt—Bacillus thuringiensis—effective against pink bollworms), and a reduced-risk feeding inhibitor (effective against Lygus bugs.) Safe for humans, these tools kill only their target pests, allowing natural processes to play a larger role in the control of all other insects. The UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences initiated the program in collaboration with growers, USDA, Arizona Department of Agriculture, Arizona Cotton Growers’ Association, Cotton Incorporated, Arizona Cotton Research & Protection Council, industry and others.


Over the past 8 years, the fully implemented cotton IPM program has resulted in a 69 percent reduction in sprays for all insects combined, including whiteflies, pink bollworm, Lygus bug and others. Insecticide usage decreased by more than 1.6 million pounds. In 1995, cotton growers sprayed on average 12.5 times with broadly toxic insecticides totaling nearly 1.71 million pounds. Today, (2006-2009), cotton growers have sprayed just 1.5 times with safer compounds totaling less than 70,000 pounds, a 24-fold reduction in insecticide use.

On a per-acre basis, growers applied 4.15 pounds of active insecticide ingredient per acre of cotton in 1995. By 2009 they had reduced this amount to 0.48 pounds of active ingredient, a reduction of 3.66 pounds or 88.3 percent. This is the equivalent of applying less than a can of soda on an area the size of a football field just once over the cotton season (March to October).

Since 1996, growers have cumulatively saved over $212 million in pesticide costs and in reduced insect damage—which has decreased by more than 60 percent over the past four years. Over a quarter of the state’s 150,000 acres of cotton was never sprayed for insect pests, and since 2008 growers have reported zero sprays for pink bollworm for the first time since the mid-1960s. The IPM plans have been exported for use in California, Texas, northern Mexico, Australia and Latin America.

Conact Name: 
Peter Ellsworth
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