The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce said it would place cotton from Region 1-A under quarantine in January if the region's growers again fail to pass a referendum for a boll weevil eradication maintenance program.
The move came as USDA Farm Service Agency offices prepared to mail ballots to eligible cotton farmers and landowners in Leflore, Quitman, Sunflower, Tunica and west Tallahatchie counties for another referendum. Growers should have received ballots on Sept. 29 and have until Oct. 10 to return them to county FSA offices.
A majority of producers in the five north Delta counties supported the maintenance program in balloting in June and again in August, but not enough to meet the 66.67 percent approval requirement for passage of any boll weevil measures in Mississippi.
“Most growers would not have considered the enormous inconvenience or cost of a quarantine,” said Will McCarty, Extension cotton specialist with Mississippi State University.
“A quarantine will be expensive from a grower- and enforcement-standpoint. As growers consider their options for the next referendum, I think they will see that the eradication program offers the best short-term and long-term option.”
MDAC officials say state law dictates that areas that no longer have an active boll weevil eradication program be quarantined.
“All cotton produced in the region will be required to be ginned within region boundaries,” the agency said in a press release. “Cottonseed to be moved from the region will require fumigation at an estimated cost of $5 per ton. Movement of all regulated articles will require a certificate showing that the articles have been fumigated or cleaned prior to movement.”
Growers found in violation of any of the quarantine rules will be subject to fines of up to $1,000 per violation.
If the referendum again proves unsuccessful, growers will also bear the brunt of the cost of a mandatory trapping and spraying program to insure no weevils are present in the region should there be a request to lift the quarantine.
In a letter to Region 1-A growers, the MDAC estimated yearly quarantine costs for growers with land overlapping into adjacent regions to be more than $20 per acre. Growers with fields entirely in Region 1-A should expect costs to exceed $15 per acre. The department called these “very conservative” estimates.
The referendum says growers would pay no more than $12 per acre per year over the next 10 years for a maintenance program in Region 1-A. Eradication program managers have said they do not anticipate the program costing more than $8 to $10 per acre the first two years and $6 to $8 per acre in the following years.
Growers in 1-A came close to passing the referendum in August with a 65.95 percent vote in favor of the maintenance program. That was significantly higher than the 55 percent approval in the June referendum.
Growers in Region 1-B — the north Delta counties of Bolivar, Coahoma and Washington — passed the August referendum with an approval rating of 68 percent.
Although most growers appear to be pleased with the reduction in boll weevil numbers that has occurred since eradication began in 1999, some growers have balked at the maintenance program because of low cotton prices or concerns they might have to pull the full $14 per acre assessment for the 10 years.
“I can assure you that since we're paying the same assessment as everyone else, that the fees will not be set any higher than they have to be,” said Rick Parson, a farmer from Vance in Tallahatchie County and a member of the board of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Eradication Corp.
Ballots from the latest referendum are scheduled to be counted Oct. 17.