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For Texas cotton growers: Eradication producing profitable results

Boll weevil eradication produces significant returns to cotton growers. This impact has been well-documented in cotton-growing states that have eradicated the weevil, but the effect in Texas is just becoming clear.

Two recent studies draw a stark contrast between areas in eradication and those still struggling with the damage caused by cotton's most consistent enemy.

A report prepared by John Robinson, an agricultural economist for Texas A&M, compared cotton production in the South Texas/Winter Garden Eradication Zone with production in nearby counties that are not conducting eradication activities.

His report, taken from data provided by the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service, shows the South Texas zone greatly outperformed the counties not in eradication.

The ST/WG showed an average increase in production of 119 pounds per acre, a 24 percent gain, from 1997-2000 compared with the four previous years. Fort Bend, Jackson, Matagorda and Wharton counties, which are not in eradication, posted an average loss of 38 pounds of cotton per acre, or a 7 percent decrease, over the same time span.

“We can't explain the difference other than the boll weevil eradication program,” Robinson said at a recent meeting with growers in the Upper Coastal Bend Eradication Zone.

The zone is composed of the four counties in Robinson's study, along with Austin, Colorado and Brazoria counties and part of Waller County. Growers in the zone will vote this month on beginning eradication activities.

The economist said the yield increase translates to a benefit to south Texas cotton growers of $75 per acre, or a return of almost $8 for every dollar spent on eradication.

“Any region that does not eradicate the boll weevil will find itself at a comparative disadvantage,” Robinson said in a recent Southwest Farm Press article. “It's a good investment.”

The South Texas/Winter Garden zone began eradication in 1996 and recently reaffirmed its commitment to eradication when almost 88 percent of growers in the region approved a measure to continue eradication.

Another study confirms the benefits of eradication. The 2000 “Cotton Insect Losses” report prepared for the 2001 Beltwide Cotton Conference, sponsored by the National Cotton Council, showed dramatic differences between the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Upper Coastal Bend areas of Texas compared with the South Texas/Winter Garden.

During the 2000 growing season, ST/WG showed no losses because of boll weevil damage, but more than 37,000 bales of cotton were lost to boll weevils in the Upper Coastal Bend. The LRGV, which encompasses the southernmost counties at the tip of Texas, lost more than 15,000 bales.

From a dollars-and-cents perspective, boll weevils cost the UCB more than $10.8 million, or $42 an acre, and almost $4.5 million, or $18.22 an acre, in the LRGV. Add the expense of insecticides to control boll weevils, and the cost to the UCB increases to $78.36 per acre and $69.29 per acre in the LRGV.

South Texas growers pay an assessment of $23.14 per acre for eradication.

“From the experience in other states, we've always known that eradication benefited cotton growers,” said Lindy Patton, executive director for the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation. “Now data from Texas cotton fields show that Texas producers can reap the same results.”

The Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation is a nonprofit, grower-initiated and funded organization dedicated to the elimination of the cotton boll weevil in the state in the most cost effective and environmentally responsible way possible.

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