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One step away from closing the door on the boll weevil

No place to run. No place to hide. After more than a century of munching its way through cotton fields and into cotton farmers' pocketbooks, the boll weevil's time may have expired.

With the announcement in late January that cotton farmers in the Northern Blacklands Eradication Zone had affirmed a referendum to initiate the program into the northeast corner of Texas (and into central Texas), not one area in the U.S. Cotton Belt remained outside a boll weevil eradication program.

And if the program proves as successful in this area as it has in every other zone in which it has been approved, initiated and allowed to work, the boll weevil will soon cease to be an economic threat to any cotton anywhere in the United States.

The program has encountered and overcome about as many challenges as the number of weevils early employees found in those bright green traps that became symbolic of the program's slow but persistent progress across the country, beginning in the northernmost and easternmost cotton area and working its way across the belt, with California and Arizona joining early and the Mid-south and Southwest adding acreage bit by bit.

Eradication routes followed a near reverse direction from the boll weevil's initial migration into U.S. cotton country, arriving — with neither fanfare nor invitation — at the end of the 19th century into Brownsville, Texas, way down in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

It's perhaps appropriate that the Valley was one of the last zones to approve the eradication program. And one can see some justice in assuming that some of the last weevils in U.S. cotton will perish near Brownsville. We can at least hope for that outcome.

The program has seen physical as well as political problems along the way. In some cases, growers, reasonably so, asserted that weevils posed less threat to their well-being than did other pests.

But as the effort moved south, from Virginia and North Carolina, leaving weevil-free cotton fields and farmers pleased with lower production costs and higher yields, skeptics became less vociferous.

Problems continued, however, and just about everywhere the program moved, first year disappointment followed. In some cases, missed field sprays meant inadequate control. Occasionally, other pests flared following boll weevil spray applications and farmers lost yield. Complaints, lawsuits and bad feelings plagued the program at regular intervals, but, given enough time, results showed that the effort worked. In just a few years, weevil numbers declined, spray applications decreased and yields got better.

In some cases, farmers say without the program they would have been forced out of cotton.

These final efforts, which will take several years to complete, come at a time when growers must find ways to produce more cotton, more efficiently. Competition within a global market demands that we grow high quality cotton — lots of it per acre — cheaper than we've been able to do it before.

Absent the boll weevil, we may be on our way to accomplishing that.

It's a good day for cotton and we congratulate growers, in the Northern Blacklands Zone, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and across the Cotton Belt for supporting this program with their money and their cooperation with program officials to eradicate a pest that has had its way for far too long.

It's time for the boll weevil to be looking for a home, somewhere else.

e-mail: [email protected]

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