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Mississippi's final assault on boll weevils

Five regions of Mississippi have been engaged in five-year plans to eradicate cotton's No. 1 pest from all fields. Last year was the first year since the early 1900s that Mississippi cotton growers did not lose any yield to boll weevils. To maintain that ability, growers in the state's hill region will have to agree to assessments supporting the organized eradication efforts.

"At least 50 percent of the cotton growers in Regions 3 and 4 (the hill section) will have to vote, and two-thirds of the majority will have to agree to the assessments of $12 per acre annually for the next 10 years for the program to continue," said John Swayze, Yazoo County cotton grower and board president for the Boll Weevil Management Corp.

Ballots will be mailed from the county Farm Service Agency offices on June 4. Growers must return ballots to their county FSA offices by June 15 for the count on June 21.

"Region 3 is currently paying $24 per acre and Region 4 is paying $20 per acre," Swayze said. "The new assessments will go to paying off the debts connected to the high costs of eradication and maintaining the program in the years to come."

Swayze said efforts to lobby for federal assistance to defray the cost will continue after the vote.

"The odds are real good that in some years we may need less than $12 per acre, primarily if we get help from the federal government," he said.

Blake Layton, cotton entomologist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said most growers recognize the benefit of the organized eradication effort.

"Before the eradication effort, growers were spending and/or losing around $50 to $60 per acre because of boll weevils," Layton said. "Now, not only is the cost much less, but there is zero yield lost."

Layton said about $160 million has been spent in the last five years eradicating the boll weevil from Mississippi. Without efforts to maintain the program, boll weevils would be able to re-establish their foothold in the state and put growers back to square one.

"It will certainly cost a lot less to keep them out than to re-eradicate or control them through normal methods," Layton said.

"The best news is that we've had the type of winter that will kill a lot of boll weevils. It's the first winter like that since eradication efforts started in the state," Layton said. "That will help keep control costs down this season."

Boll weevils came to Mississippi in 1907 and were entrenched statewide seven years later. Layton said individual weevils have been documented to travel as far as 169 miles.

"This shows how easily they could re-infest the state and why it is so important to have an effective boll weevil eradication maintenance program in place," Layton said.

Linda Breazeale writes for Mississippi State University's Office of Agricultural Communications.

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