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Cotton’s nemesis - unpleasant memory

July 21, 2010

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Zero. Zip. Zilch. None. That’s the number of boll weevils trapped in Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee last year — plus all the states from Alabama eastward.

And though about 300 weevils were trapped in Louisiana in 2009, a very aggressive control program appears to have been successful and only one has been caught in traps this year.

While some work remains to be done in Texas to complete eradication, the U.S cotton industry is, after more than a decade of concentrated effort, in the home stretch of a program to eliminate the pest that has plagued growers for over 100 years and cost more than $15 billion in crop losses.

Mississippi, which achieved weevil-free status in 2009 and paid off all debts related to the program, “can be proud of the outstanding cooperation of a lot of agencies, organizations, legislators, and producers who supported this effort from day 1 and saw it through to the end,” said Clarksdale, Miss., grower Tripp Hayes, president of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation, at the group’s annual joint meeting with the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s Cotton Policy Committee.

“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.”

And Hayes noted, that cooperation has continued with the Mississippi legislature’s passage of two bills this year — one to streamline the reauthorization of the boll weevil management board and create a statewide program for the post-eradication and containment phase, another to divert the $1 per bale cotton warehouse assessment to the management board, which will help to keep down the cost to producers.

“That was good news,” Hayes says, “as we move forward with our program to keep Mississippi weevil-free.”

Farrell Boyd, who has served as manager of the program, says trapping efforts will continue in all the state’s cotton-growing areas in order to detect any weevils that might come into the state on machinery or be wafted in on hurricane winds.

“We have traps located in a half-mile radius of every cotton field in the state,” he notes, “and they’re inspected and serviced tri-weekly. Even though we’re weevil-free, we will continue to do everything possible to maintain that status and protect the great investment of our state’s cotton growers.”

Following 2009’s record low 296,343 acres, Mississippi cotton plantings have bounced back this year to a bit over 401,000, a 35 percent increase, Farrell says. While that still is a far cry from the 1 million-plus acres the state routinely planted for decades, he says “We’re hoping we will continue to see more growers move back to cotton in the years ahead.”

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