Seven Texas boll weevil eradication zones, representing 4.2 million acres of cotton, have seen weevil populations reduced below levels that would qualify for suppressed status this year. Added to two zones already declared functionally eradicated, more than 5 million acres of Texas cotton are on the verge of eliminating the costly pest.
Suppressed status means the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc. catches a season-long average of fewer than 25 weevils for every 1,000 traps its personnel inspect.
This success means more than three-fourths of the state's active eradication zones will be close to driving boll weevils out of their cotton patches. And those zones also account for nearly 90 percent of the state's cotton acreage.
The Western High Plains, El Paso/Trans Pecos, Southern High Plains/Caprock, Northern High Plains, Northwest Plains, Northern Rolling Plains, and Permian Basin zones have season-long weevil capture numbers below suppressed levels, according to Lindy Patton, executive director of the foundation, which is headquartered in Abilene.
The Southern Rolling Plains and the Rolling Plains Central zones have already achieved functionally eradicated status.
The program is working well, Patton says. “We just need to finish the job. We're seeing tremendous progress across the state.”
Weevil numbers have declined quickly in some zones. Trap counts in the Southern High Plains/Caprock and the Northern High Plains zones, which came into the program in 2001, indicate that just into the third year the job is “nearly done,” Patton says.
Very low count
Counts in the Southern High Plains/Caprock showed an average of only .00004 weevils per trap inspection. In 2003, the foundation staff inspected 150,000 traps each week in the 1.2 million acres of SHP/C cotton. “Total weevil count for the year was 145 out of nearly 4 million trap inspections,” Patton says. “That zone was covered up with weevils when the program started.”
Two years ago, the year-to-date count by mid-November was more than 300,000 weevils and trapping only started mid-season. “We've seen a reduction of 99.99 percent,” Patton says.
Those High Plains zones came in at an opportune time. They were surrounded by active zones to the west and south and very little cotton to the north. Both New Mexico and Oklahoma had eradication programs in progress, so early efforts were not hindered by significant migration into the zones.
The El Paso/Trans Pecos Zone also made progress quickly.
“The weevils were nearly eradicated by the third year of the program,” Patton says. “We've seen some migration and saw some pressure in an area that had cotton for the first time this year, but we still only caught 1,321 weevils all year.
“Counts in the Northern High Plains represent the kind of numbers we like to see,” he says. “A lot of weeks through the season trap counts were zero and by late November only 37 weevils had been trapped in the zone. In 2001, just from late-season trapping, we caught 138,000 in this zone.”
Growers in the South Texas/Winter Garden Zone get pressure from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which is not in the program, and from the Upper Coastal Bend, which is in its first full year of eradication efforts. Patton says numbers in the center of the zone have been low with higher trap counts along the fringes.
More and better
“Farmers in this zone say they're making more cotton with better quality.” He figures reduction in the STWG to be 98 percent.
He says growers in the Rolling Plains Central Zone planted a very late crop, weathered a prolonged drought last summer and still made a decent crop after August. Before the eradication program, weevils would have devoured that late crop.
“I've had farmers tell me they made enough extra cotton this year because of eradication to pay for the entire cost of the program,” Patton says.
Trap counts in the Western High Plains registered zero for several weeks in 2003, Patton says. “Late in the season, we began to pick up some weevils in the southern part of the zone, migrating in from an area not in eradication.”
Numbers in the Northern Rolling Plains also are low.
“The farmers in this area have worked well with foundation personnel to bring the numbers way down. And success in the High Plains and a good program in Oklahoma eliminated migrating weevils coming into this zone. ” Patton says.
“We're also seeing incredible results in the Northwest Plains, the area including Muleshoe, Littlefield, and Dimmit. We haven't trapped a single weevil in the entire zone since mid-September.”
Efforts in the Southern Blacklands are paying off, too, under difficult conditions. “We had high numbers of weevils in this area even after diapause sprays,” Patton says. “In the diapause year, we averaged about 15 weevils per trap inspection. This year our season-long average is just under 0.37 weevils per trap inspection. This is a reduction of 97 percent since 2001.”
Late rains hamper
Patton says late season rains in the SBL make the program more difficult.
“Timely stalk destruction in this area is imperative to the success of the program.”
He says weevil infestation in the Upper Coastal Bend was intense. “I saw more weevils in this zone when we started than anywhere else I'd ever been. We started in 2002 and have made good progress, with weevil population reductions at 86 percent. Conditions are tough with floods and hurricanes that make it hard to get into the fields.”
Patton says interest from zones not yet in the program is encouraging. Growers in the Northern Blacklands voted in late November on the opportunity to become an active zone. Results will be available later this month.
He says growers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley also are trying to develop a program and have asked for recommendations from the foundation's technical advisory committee.
And growers in the northernmost cotton area of Texas, in the Panhandle, also are looking at a program.
“Weevils in that northern area are not a significant problem,” Patton says, “but these growers are progressive and want to prevent infestation.”
The Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation Inc., also cooperates with New Mexico's effort in zones just across the state line. Patton says several of those zones also are at or near suppression status.
“Helping New Mexico helps Texas,” he says.
The program has experienced some challenges.
“In the Southern Rolling Plains, we went nearly two years without catching a weevil,” Patton says. “Last year we caught one that we believe came in on equipment. In 21 days, we found four weevils in a nearby field. That was a textbook case of weevil reproduction. In another 21 days we found a few more. In all, we trapped 17 weevils for the year.”
The foundation's clean-up efforts were successful; this year no weevils were captured until the first part of September. One weevil, believed to have been brought in on equipment, was captured early in September, followed by two lone weevils later in the month. In late October and early November weevils began migrating into the zone in much higher numbers. By Thanksgiving, 184 weevils had been captured. Patton says as soon as traps catch weevils, “We treat the fields.”
Weevils showed up mostly on the western edge of the zone, adjacent to cotton fields outside of the zone, which are not involved in an active eradication program.
Weevils also migrated into the Rolling Plains Central and the Permian Basin Zones from this area.
“The Permian Basin was nearly eradicated in 2001,” Patton says. “But in the last two seasons, numbers have been high and we've had to make more treatments. Weevil numbers have been up a number of weeks this year, especially late in the growing season. We're seeing no reproduction, however.”
Cotton producers in the northern part of the St. Lawrence zone, where a significant amount of the migrating weevils originated, petitioned the Commissioner of Agriculture to join the Permian Basin Zone. A recent transfer referendum failed by a slim margin.
Patton says the weevil count to date is lower than last year, but higher than in 2001.
“Farmers in the Rolling Plains Central also are frustrated. They had just about completed the job, and now weevils are moving in from another area.”
Patton says weevil migration out of the St. Lawrence area was not a serious issue until recently. “They had severe droughts so weevil numbers were down. But the last two seasons have been good weevil years.”
The foundation is working with cotton producers in the area to help find a solution to this problem.
Patton says the challenges indicate that farmers and program administrators “can't let up yet. There are always struggles with a program of this magnitude and sometimes problems have nothing to do with the program.”
Patton says quarantine regulations, which restrict the movement of equipment and materials into zones that have been declared functionally eradicated, “have helped. But we need to do a better job of educating people about cleaning equipment. It takes very little time to clean harvest machinery before moving it into an eradicated zone.”
Patton says credit for eradication progress goes mostly to cotton producers serving on the board of directors and on grower steering committees that provide leadership to direct foundation efforts.
“This program includes 30,000 producers and landowners and we couldn't bring all those folks together for a common goal without grower leaders making the program work.”
He also praised Texas legislators such as Sen. Robert Duncan and Rep. Rick Hardcastle and Ag Commissioner Susan Combs for pushing legislation to help fund the program. “Our growers still need help paying for this program, and we believe it is a good investment at both local and state levels. It's good for the agricultural as well as the general economy.
“The more progress we make, the lower the costs become, but we still have a lot to do. The job's not done.”