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Boll weevil eradication predicted by 2009

For the first time since it's inception in 1983, the Boll Weevil Eradication Program is eliminating the category “future expansion” from its update reports.

With the 2006 crop, the program includes all cotton acreage in the United States, says Osama A. El-Lissy, director, USDA-APHIS invasive species and pest management. El-Lissy discussed the near elimination of one of the most devastating agricultural pests during the recent Beltwide Cotton Conferences in San Antonio.

He predicts the weevil will be eradicated from U.S. cotton by 2009.

“We are close to complete eradication in the United States,” El-Lissy said, “and that is a tribute to tremendous cooperation between growers, consultants, universities, government and state agencies. This program should be a model for other agricultural pest management programs.”

The 2006 BWEP update still includes three categories: completed and active, but future expansion has been replaced with post expansion.

El-Lissy says the 2005 report shows 41 percent of the U.S. cotton acreage in the completed category with 57 percent listed as active. The other 2 percent fell into future expansion. Those areas are active in 2006. Currently, 100 percent of the U.S. Cotton Belt is involved in boll weevil eradication, with over 80 percent having completed eradication and the remaining 20 percent nearing eradication.

Eradicated areas

“To date, the boll weevil has been eradicated from nearly 12.9 million acres of cotton in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Kansas, California, Arizona, and portions of Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico,” El-Lissy said.

The weevil is gone as well as from the neighboring regions of the Mexicali Valley, Sonoita, and Caborca in Mexico.

“The program is currently operating in the remaining 3.5 million acres of cotton in Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.”

He said of the 12.9 million acres indicated as having completed eradication, 6.6 million have been formally declared eradicated and an additional 6.3 million acres considered weevil-free based on 2005 program data.

The final two pieces of the eradication puzzle were put in place with 2005 referenda activating the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the Northern Blacklands zones in Texas.

Much of the U.S. cotton belt now shifts to a maintenance program. “We'll continue a three-pronged approach including mapping, detection and control,” El-Lissy said.

Traps main indicator

Techniques to manage those three essential parts of the program have evolved significantly during the near 30-year span of weevil eradication efforts.

“Global Positioning serves almost all our mapping needs now,” El-Lissy said. “Traps remain the primary detection tool and we're still performing weekly inspections, bi-weekly pheromone replacements and monthly insecticide strip changes. We're running one trap per two to five acres, depending on location and weevil population and we're using bar codes to collect data. That's become almost the norm and is a long way from complete manual data collection.”

Control still depends on three approaches: chemical, cultural and regulatory.

“Malathion ULV remains the standard for chemical control,” El-Lissy said, “and we constantly monitor for resistance.”

Cultural controls depend on stalk destruction and residue management. “Regulatory efforts establish deterrents to artificial movements of weevils into eradicated zones,” El-Lissy said. The program limits equipment traffic into weevil-free zones.

He said the program currently is anticipating post eradication. “We are forming working groups to determine how to implement post eradication programs,” he said. “We're looking at the technical requirements, administration and coordination of efforts among agencies across the Cotton Belt.”

Post eradication will include weevil identification, defining triggers for control if necessary and continued monitoring. He said Mexico's continued participation in the program will be essential to prevent re-infestation.

“This has been an extremely successful program,” El-Lissy said. “The remarkable environmental, biological, and economic benefits realized within the eradicated regions make boll weevil eradication one of the most important agricultural programs in U.S. history.”

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