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Boll weevil eradication programs make sense for cotton growers

I DON'T often tell folks what to do. I tried it a few times with my children and they did not react well to it, so I've pretty much given up the practice. I still might offer a suggestion or two to my teenage son if I'm feeling particularly proud and need a good dose of humility.

But, at the risk of being humbled even more, let me suggest something that makes good sense for cotton farmers. Those who are wavering about whether or not to initiate a Boll Weevil Eradication Program in your area, support it. It makes sense.

Cotton production costs will decrease. Yields will go up. Pesticide use will diminish. It's happened in other areas. and there is no reason why it can't and won't in the Southwest.

I've heard most of the reasons why some farmers oppose the program. A few, a year or so ago, might have claimed that boll weevils caused too little damage to justify program costs. The last two seasons should have pretty much disabused them of that idea. Weevil numbers outside active eradication zones have soared this year. In some cases, farmers had to give up on the crop: The combination of drought and weevils was too much to overcome.

Some farmers say they lose control of their fields. That may be true, to an extent. But if they don't cooperate to manage boll weevils they lose control anyway. Left to its own devices, the weevil will take over your cotton fields.

Turning a field over to a government program has to be one of the hardest things for an independent farmer to do. Most farmers I know are farmers because it provides them an opportunity to live independently of time clocks, three-piece suits and desks. And many government programs have done little over the years to endear themselves to farmers or to build up much good will.

The Boll Weevil Eradication Program admittedly has had its share of snafus since it began in the Southeast years ago. But, Southwestern farmers are at least the benefactors of the opportunity to learn from other state's mistakes. (Not that there have been none perpetrated in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.) It's run by humans and humans are an imperfect lot.

I've heard claims that the program will not work, that it's not possible to eradicate anything as persistent, pernicious and diabolical as the boll weevil. Farmers in Southeastern states will tell you differently. Absent the boll weevil, they are back in cotton, producing more efficiently than ever and making more per acre because the boll weevil is not stealing lint form them.

Farmers may claim, considering the current economic climate for cotton, and what for many is the second or third drought-ravaged crop in a row, they simply can't afford to pay the assessment. That's got to be a tough call. No one wants to pay more taxes, fees or levies than necessary. But farmers in the program attest that the savings they gain from yield increases are usually enough to offset the fees.

And farmers now have to look no further than the Southern Rolling Plains Eradication Zone to see evidence that the program works. The zone was recently declared "functionally eradicated." They'll maintain vigilance, monitor populations and react quickly to destroy any weevils that try to regain a foothold in the zone. But the weevil will not be an economic factor.

Success in the Southern Rolling Plains also means the task becomes easier for adjacent zones.

It's like clearing your way out of a briar patch. Once you get that first swath clean, you can move around and take a bigger swipe at the other stuff around you without worrying about getting pricked in the process.

Boll Weevil Eradication has stirred up a lot of emotions in the Southwest, as it did all across the Cotton Belt. But the program should unite growers, not divide them. Individual farmers have tried for more than a century to kill the pest, without success. Only a massive, proven, cooperative effort will destroy the boll weevil.

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