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Cotton boll weevil’s gone

After 10-plus years and tens of millions of dollars, Mississippi cotton farmers have succeeded in accomplishing something an entomologist sadly said in the early 1900s “could not possibly be done” — eliminate the boll weevil.

“We take great pleasure in saying that, in Mississippi, the boll weevil is gone; we’re done with the eradication process,” Tripp Hayes, Clarksdale, Miss., producer and president of the board of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp., said at the organization’s recent joint annual meeting with the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s Cotton Policy Committee.

The boll weevil, Anthonomus grandis Boheman, a native of Mexico and Central America, entered the U.S. near Brownsville, Texas, about 1892, and was first found in Mississippi in September 1907.

During its century-plus in this country, it has cost the cotton industry an estimated $15 billion in crop losses and control costs.

“This has been an outstanding collaborative effort by a lot of organizations and a lot of people who have stepped up to the plate, got the program off the ground, and kept it moving toward the goal of a weevil-free state,” Hayes says of Mississippi’s eradication program.

“It’s a tribute to the hard work of the Mississippi Farm Bureau, Delta Council, Department of Agriculture and Commerce, the state legislature, the Extension Service, Mississippi State University, the USDA, the staffs of the Boll Weevil Eradication organizations, and above all, the state’s cotton producers, who funded the program and are to be congratulated for staying the course.

“There’s no way it could’ve been done without their efforts and leadership. It is an accomplishment that no other state in the Cotton Belt has done as expeditiously or economically.

“This year, we paid off the last bit of debt. Our initial USDA loan was for $10.377 million and at one point we owed $53 million. Producer assessments have been as high as $24 per acre per year; today, we have adequate reserves in our contingency fund and the charge to producers in 2009 will be only $3 per acre. We’ve come a very, very long way.”

Also, there will be a change in the payment date. In years past, growers have made payments in May and July. Now, they will make one full payment on or before Aug. 1.

Farrell Boyd, who Hayes says “has done a stellar job leading this effort” as program manager, notes that only three weevils were caught in the entire state last year — one in Tunica County, two late season in Chickasaw County.

“We found no evidence of reproduction or reinfestation. We feel these were hitchhikers from out of state. All other areas of the state had zero weevils, and not a single weevil has been captured in the state so far this year. Trapping this spring found no overwintered weevils.”

This year, the program is operating in a post-eradication mode, Boyd says, with a grid trapping effort that calls for a trap within one-half mile of every cotton field in the state. Traps, which contain the grandlure bait formulation, are inspected and serviced tri-weekly.

“This will be a transition year for trapping; until we gain some experience and confidence in this post-eradication phase, we may find we’re overtrapping somewhat,” he says.

“Louisiana hasn’t completed its eradication program, but there is a 20-mile to 30-mile buffer zone between us and where they have infestations. They are doing an aggressive job of spraying, and thus far this season have reported only 164 weevil captures, compared to 3,000 at this time last year, and 12,000 for the entire season.

“None of the other states bordering Mississippi has had any captures thus far in 2009, and odds are very low that they will have any.”

Boyd says the program’s goal now is “to continue to be on the alert for any weevils that might show up, and to knock them out quickly. We will also continue working to reduce program costs and producer assessments.”

In 2008, cotton acres in the state totaled 362,761; this year, it has dropped to 284,632. “That was something of a surprise,” he says. We had expected to pretty much maintain last year’s acreage.”

David Waide, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation president, Jackson, Miss., told the group, “Farm Bureau is pleased to have assisted in the legislative measures for the eradication program and to have supported this effort over the years.

“To have achieved this in the face of all the environmental challenges of the past decade is truly an outstanding achievement. Now that eradication is complete, the further reduction in the use of pesticides will be a real plus for the cotton industry. With the many registration problems we face with ag chemicals, we’d hate to see our arsenal reduced even more.”

Countries that compete with the U.S. in cotton may more and more be facing a need to use their land resources for growing food, says Waide, “and this should bode well for our producers. I look for a reversal of the downward trend of the past few years and more cotton acres in the not-too-distant future.”

There is such a push for biofuels, he says, that “one day cottonseed oil may hold as much potential for growers as the fiber.”

Harry Fulton, state entomologist for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce’s Bureau of Plant Industry, says now that eradication has been achieved, there will be some changes in the law, mainly to establish zones for monitoring and establishing guidelines for action should reinfestation occur.

“We’ll work with the organization and state cotton growers on these regulations.

“The state’s producers have a large investment in this program, and we’re charged with protecting it. We don’t want reinfestation, so a key initiative will be to try and keep weevils from being imported from states to the west of us, where eradication isn’t complete.”

The overall collection rate for farmer assessments since the program began in 1997 has been 99.2 percent, Fulton says, “a really excellent record and evidence of the outstanding cooperation we’ve had from the state’s cotton farmers.”


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