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RECOUNT: Eradication referendum defeated

MISSISSIPPI STATE, Miss. -- Just days after announcing that Delta growers had approved continuation of the boll weevil eradication effort, program officials are saying that the earlier vote count was inaccurate, and that the referendum actually was defeated in one region.

"The bottom line is there was just a miscalculation of invalid ballots," says Jeannine Smith, executive director of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp., in Starkville, Miss.

When ballots were counted Aug. 22, the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp., reported that 861 eligible ballots had been cast in the repeat referendum by growers in region 1A, with 67.94 percent of those growers voting in favor of the eradication program. That number didn't hold up to a second count.

According to Smith, a recount of ballots revealed that only 65.95 percent of growers in region 1A voted in favor of the program.

Passage of the referendum required at least two-thirds of growers in the region 1A counties of Leflore, Quitman, Sunflower, Tunica, and west Tallahatchie, approve the program. However, after subtracting 26 invalid ballots that were included in the earlier tally, but shouldn't have been, the approval percentage dropped below the required two-thirds level.

Cotton grower John Swayze of Benton, Miss., who serves as president of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp. board, says, "This miscalculation was a frustrating discovery, mainly because it's clear the majority of the growers support the program and all that it is accomplishing. However, since state law requires 66 and two-thirds to be in favor, we are committed to that percentage."

This recently-discovered failure is the second blow dealt to the program in as many months. In June, Delta growers failed to approve the referendum authorizing a 10-year maintenance program, which carries with it a maximum grower assessment of $12 per acre.

In the time between the two referendums in June and August, eradication proponents attempted to sway the area's growers to their way of thinking. They also tried to sell growers on their cost-savings plan, saying program officials had budgeted $8 to $10 per acre to run the maintenance program in 2004-05, and $6 to $8 per acre in 2006 through 2013.

Their efforts apparently paid off in the region 1B counties of Bolivar, Coahoma, and Washington, where 68.85 percent of cotton growers approved the followup referendum.

"We are committed to eradicating boll weevils in Mississippi," Swayze says. "We believe it is essential for keeping our costs down and our state competitive with other areas that are weevil-free."

Mississippi cotton specialist Will McCarty says he too considers the program essential for Mississippi to remain competitive in the cotton industry.

"I'm sure growers will have different reasons for voting against the referendum, but it usually comes down to money," McCarty says. "Some growers may think they can control boll weevils for less money than required for the program. They need to remember that the goal is not to control the boll weevil, but to eradicate this pest, and remain competitive with other cotton-growing regions."

The cost of controlling weevils in the future will be significantly higher than in the past, according to McCarty.

Swayze says the board is reviewing all options for future actions.


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