Land-grant scientists and cotton seed and technology companies have done outstanding jobs delivering new, high-yielding traits and information to help growers combat production-robbing pests and conditions, factors that help keep growers growing cotton in the Southeast, and in other major producing regions of the country.
I recently did an article on PPO resistance in Georgia cotton systems. PPO resistance, along with resistance to other important chemistries, is a growing concern across the Southeast and Delta, and other regions. We’ve been down this road before (still on it) and know the caution signs.
A little over two decades ago, growers and specialists began to suspect pigweed in Georgia wasn’t surrendering as it should to glyphosate applied over-the-top of tolerant seed traits. They were correct. I worked for UGA Extension at the time and knew well the folks involved in the confirmation. Still do know them well. Extension and industry responded to the crisis. It had to. It taught us a lot.
Over the last two decades, Georgia’s cotton industry has invested more than $2 billion to manage glyphosate-resistant pigweed, and that’s just one state. Resistance, particularly weed resistance, is a numbers game and the numbers have greatly cost growers across the country, especially in the Southeast.
Still, growers now produce more on less acres. I’ll stick with Georgia cotton here for an example, but the same trend goes across the cotton region. In 2002, Georgia cotton growers harvested 1.26 million acres and produced 1.565 million bales, according to USDA. In 2021, Georgia cotton growers harvested 1.16 million acres and produced 2.250 million 480-pound bales, or close to a two-bale per acre average. That’s a stark increase in production efficiency, all while producing the crop in much-more environmentally friendly manner.
Though they are producing more efficiently with roughly the same total acreage, it doesn’t mean growers enjoy producing more cotton more cheaply than before, especially this season.
More than two decades ago, nature’s natural ways outflanked a powerful but welcomed tool. Cooperation and mutual understanding outflanked it back. That cooperation is needed today even more so. The trip isn’t over. Resistance management is a journey with no endpoint and best travelled cooperatively.