Bye-bye, bollworm

After more than 100 years, U.S. cotton is free of the devastating pink bollworm. USDA made the announcement in October after years of research, rigorous control measures and regulatory activities to eliminate the pest. Pink bollworm has cost U.S. producers tens of millions of dollars in yearly crop protection costs and yield losses.

The elimination means USDA will lift 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,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in announcing the news. “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.”

Efforts to eliminate the pink bollworm included planting transgenic cotton, using insect pheromones to disrupt mating, releasing sterile insects to prevent reproduction and conducting extensive surveys.

Pink bollworm was first detected in the U.S. in Hearne, Texas, in 1917. That infestation and another found in Louisiana in 1919 were eliminated only to be re-invaded in the 1930s. By the 1950s, the pest had spread to surrounding states and eventually reached California in 1963.

In 1955, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service established domestic pink bollworm regulations. At the height of the program, 10 states—including Missouri and Arkansas—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.

The U.S. is a world leader in cotton production and trade. The 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 traded globally.

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