CDFA Plant Health


 wedge Pest Hotline: 1-800-491-1899

The Pink Bollworm (PBW) Program is one of the most successful and longest running, yet least-known area-wide integrated pest control program in the world.

This unique integrated pest control program has been in continual operation since 1967. The cooperative program is funded almost entirely by the cotton growers of California through an assessment on each bale of cotton ginned in the state. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) contributes about eight percent of the total program funding. For more than 46 years, program activities have successfully prevented incipient infestations of PBW from becoming established in the cotton growing areas of California. The PBW Program uses an integrated pest management approach, relying on extensive trapping, sterile release, crop destruction, pheromone treatments and 100 percent transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton in Southern California to keep infestations below economic impact levels.

The program does not use pesticides, but instead uses sterile PBW moths to overwhelm these infestations. Sterile moths are produced at the CDFA/USDA PBW Rearing Facility in Phoenix, Arizona. To determine where sterile moths need to be released, program personnel put out pheromone-baited insect traps and inspect them biweekly from April through October. Sterile PBW moths are sent to California daily and released by aircraft over target areas determined by trapping results. PBW threatens nearly 400,000 acres of cotton grown in the San Joaquin Valley and 20,000 acres grown in Southern California.

If PBW became established in the San Joaquin Valley, millions of pounds of pesticides would be introduced into the environment annually, just to control PBW. It is estimated that an additional seven pounds of pesticides per acre would have to be used every year to control PBW and related secondary pests in the San Joaquin Valley. Establishment of PBW in the San Joaquin Valley could increase cotton growers' pest control costs by $100- $150 per acre.

Besides using sterile PBW moths, the program occasionally uses a pheromone to disrupt the moths’ mating activities. Pheromone is the substance secreted by the female PBW moth to attract the male moth. The pheromone used to disrupt PBW is a synthetic chemical with the same structure and activity as a natural pheromone.

An integral part of the program involves cultural controls through the enforcement of plowdown regulations. Local county agricultural commissioners carry out this important function as part of the cooperative program. These regulations provide a "host-free" period, by means of planting and crop destruction dates. Complete shredding of cotton stalks and the dislodging of cotton plant roots to prevent regrowth is a key link to successfully completing this integrated pest control program.

In compliance with the USDA Area-wide PBW Eradication Program and the Bt Cotton Section 18 registration, all cotton planted in Southern California is 100 percent Bt Cotton. Bt cotton has insecticidal properties that help control PBW infestations. All cotton fields in the Southern California cotton-growing region are tested annually to substantiate that plantings are 100 percent Bt cotton.

Cotton is one of the most important crops grown in California. It is estimated that cotton accounts for over 150,000 jobs in California - a combination of direct employment and employment related to value added goods and services of cotton's domestic and export trade. The value of California's cotton exports including lint, cottonseed and other products makes the cotton crop worth nearly one billion dollars annually. Leading California's cotton production are Fresno, Kern, Kings, Merced, and Tulare Counties.

Contact Info

  • Program Supervisor: Dr. Patrick Akers
  • Phone: (916) 262-1102
  • Web page info: Sara Richards, (916) 262-1173