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Biological Agriculture Systems in Cotton (BASIC) Pilot Project in Kern County


Why Try Basic?

Five Features of Ecologically Based Pest Management

Suggested Types of Beneficial Refuges

Field Reports


  • To reduce pesticide input in cotton, alfalfa and other rotation and adjacent crops while maintaining yields.
  • Using on-farm demonstrations, to teach farmers about the practical use of beneficial insect enhancement habitat plantings that foster biological control of cotton pests—IPM by Ecologically Based Pest Management (EBPM).

Participants receive

  • Weekly monitoring and reporting of management recommendations.
  • Advice from pest management consultants.
  • Two field day demonstrations about management practices.
  • A customized EBPM field plan for your farm.
  • Documentation of results including yield and pesticide use reduction analyses.


Why try BASIC?


California cotton growers are the single largest users of EPA category 1 and category 2 pesticides. Kern County accounts for 27% of the state’s pesticide use in cotton. The high cost of conventional chemical control and the low price for ginned cotton point toward a new way of thinking about pest management—an areawide agroecology approach. BASIC uses techniques such as plant mapping, fertility measurements, and scouting methods that recognize the importance of assessing population numbers of both potential pest and natural enemy populations to predict future population trends. Scouting for natural enemies as well as pests makes it possible to determine pest control actions appropriate to their actual need. Natural enemy conservation and enhancement in a proactive program is the goal of EBPM. Treatments are made with selective or soft chemicals only when necessary and when the action will help restore EBPM. Habitat enhancement and augmentation colonizations of beneficial insects are at the forefront of development of EBPM programs, whereas IPM fails where too few natural enemy populations enter the crop too late to prevent economic damage.


In the Chowchilla area of San Joaquin Valley BASIC growers reduced pesticide use by 83% while maintaining or improving yields and profitability. This one-year pilot project is underway to help farmers in Kern County use the BASIC principles in cotton as well as alfalfa and other crops rotated with or planted adjacent to cotton.


The Dietrick Institute for Applied Insect Ecology in cooperation with the Sustainable Cotton Project (both non-profit organizations) has grant funding from the US-EPA to provide participant growers, and pest management consultants, an opportunity to apply BASIC methods in Kern County. Senior entomologist, Everett "Deke" Dietrick, has spent his professional career researching applied techniques to eliminate pesticide sprays in cotton-growing regions. Most cotton spray programs were found to be unnecessary in the 1960’s before the appearance of pink bollworm. His consultations in the 1970’s with cotton producers in Mexico and Central America led to development of their IPM programs.


Combining the BASIC model from northern San Joaquin Valley and the unique experience of the Dietrick Institute staff with EBPM in cotton throughout the cotton production world, participant growers will benefit from similar reductions in pesticide use and a more sustainable future for cotton farming.


Five Features of Ecologically Based Pest Management (EBPM)

  1. Avoidance of disruptive pesticides -- Spray only if there is a pest problem! Repeated use of all classes of chemical pesticides results in resistant pests. The natural enemies of pests generally do not reproduce as quickly as their hosts so when they are killed, they do not have an equal chance to develop resistance, as do the pests. Restoring biological control through EBPM allows beneficial populations to grow back into balance.
  2. Development of beneficial refuges -- Strip or trap cover crops attract natural enemies that offer a field insectary and winter refuge for beneficial insects. These refuges provide the most economic way to establish biological control on your farm. Parasites live several times longer and destroy more pests when there are plants that provide pollen, nectar and refuge. Think of reserving 1% of your field for pest control by natural enemies. Much of the 1% can come from roadsides, borders, box ends and row ends. For example, interplantings of a few hills of corn will act as a trap crop for corn earworm (=cotton bollworm) which serve as food for a complex of 25 or more natural enemies.
  3. Monitoring of insect ecology -- Effective pest management decisions can only be made if beneficial as well as pest populations are monitored regularly. Sampling with an insect vacuum net (D-Vac) provides a more complete sample of all life stages of pests and beneficials than conventional sweep net sampling. One can follow the progress of biological control interactions by observing the size and density distribution of pest populations. For example, samples of only eggs and adults without the larval stages suggest that when the adults die the pests will no longer be a problem. Rating the ratio of pests to beneficials makes it possible to predict damage thresholds more accurately and farther into the future in time to prevent yield losses.
  4. Development of cultural practices -- Crop rotation, hedge rows and refuge enhancement management exploits the biology of both pests and beneficials to optimize the efficacy of the beneficials. For example, many more beneficials migrate into adjacent row crops sooner from strip cut alfalfa than from uniformly cut alfalfa.
  5. Release of beneficial organisms -- Early releases of beneficials when the pest is first detected is the most cost effective way to establish beneficial populations that provide season long control.


Suggested Types of Beneficial Insect Refuges


The development of beneficial insect refuges is basic to the success of ecologically based pest management. Where habitat for natural enemies is too sparse or absent as in Kern County, participants will be assisted in choosing among three general insect habitat strategies for growing predators mainly of aphids, mites, lygus, whitefly and bollworm on the farm. Training will include how to plant, irrigate, cut, monitor and adjust the size and variety of these types of insect refuges.


  • Perennial hedgerows to attract whitefly parasites in cooperation Dr. Charles Pickett, California Department of Food and Agriculture.


  • Alfalfa borders to trap lygus including strip cutting to force beneficials to migrate into market crops. Roads or road borders may include limited amounts of other annuals, such as early radish, kale or fava beans, depending on the situation of each farm.


  • Small scattered stands of corn (combining 60, 90 and 120 day harvest) to attract bollworm adults and their concentrations of egg and larval parasites and to attract general predators of corn aphids, mites, and thrips.


Contact: Stefan Long, Project Leader

Dietrick Institute for Applied Insect Ecology

PO Box 2506, Ventura, CA 93002

Tel. (805) 643-3169 Fax (805) 643-6267 e-mail: