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Corn+Soybean Digest

Nearly Boll Weevil-Free

Many fought it early on. Some still argue against it. But many of those early opponents now praise the success and value of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program (BWEP).

Once an insect that nearly wiped out cotton production in many areas, the boll weevil is now virtually under control, thanks to the massive BWEP that covers every key cotton region of the nation.

The National Cotton Council (NCC) Boll Weevil Action Committee (BWAC) has approved a plan for spending nearly $300 million to complete active eradication programs in seven cotton-producing states, about 30% of which will likely be funded by Congress in the cost-share program.

NCC ranks BWEP up there with Eli Whitney's cotton gin. Not much has been more important to cotton producers, who themselves have made the national program possible.

Frank Carter, NCC entomologist in Memphis, TN, says USDA-APHIS reports indicate that total national boll weevil eradication is at least 80% complete. “The last two areas of an eradication program began in 2005 in Texas,” he says. “Also, there is now a partnership with Mexico to eradicate boll weevil and pink bollworms.”

With the program in Texas and across the nation, we've shut the backdoor on the boll weevil all over, adds Woody Anderson, a Colorado City, TX, grower and part of the BWAC. “I haven't sprayed for any other insects since we started the eradication program here in 1996.”

Most recognizable by the light green and white cone traps situated beside virtually every cotton field from the Carolinas to California, BWEP was not popular in many areas early on. Some claimed that required BWEP insecticide applications wiped out beneficial insects and created late-season bug outbreaks.

Such outbreaks happened. But after a year or two of having the program in place, growers quickly saw less insect pressure. Large increases in cotton yields have resulted in recent years, thanks to higher quality seed and, as many say, better growing conditions resulting from the BWEP.

The sweeping popularity of Bt cotton has complimented the BWEP and enhanced insect control even more. “Both BWEP and Bt cotton have revolutionized cotton insect control in the U.S.,” says Carter.

He adds that in the BWEP plan, all cotton production areas (zones) in the U.S. would complete eradication programs by 2011. If not already there, zones would enter a post-eradication phase, where a zone shows no evidence of weevil reproduction.

Carter says there could be a few weevils found in traps. But if there are no additional catches, “then there is no evidence of reproduction.”

Anderson, also former NCC president, points out the many environmental benefits of the BWEP. “There has been a drastic reduction in insecticide use,” he says. “That's huge for the environment, me as a farmer and the people who work for me.

“Even though we've had to pay an assessment as producers, we've seen a direct benefit come back to us in the bottom line. I think that when I paid my assessment when the program started in '96, in '97 I got my entire investment over a 10-year life of the program back that year,” Anderson says.

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