West Tennessee cotton producers have voted in favor of a referendum to refinance the remaining years of their boll weevil eradication program. They will now pay a $12.25-per-acre assessment over 10 years to eradicate the weevil and implement a maintenance program to keep the pest from returning.
The 90 percent positive vote far exceeded the two-thirds needed for approval. The $12.25 fee does not include any state money. The state of Tennessee has contributed over $21 million to west Tennessee growers since the start of the program in 1998.
Over 4,000 ballots were mailed out to voters, of which 50 percent were returned. “We counted 2,178 ballots yesterday (March 25) — 1,961 were positive and 217 voted against the referendum,” said Ron Seward, who is state program manager for the eradication program.
The referendum combined all three west Tennessee regions, noted Seward. “Region One was in its last active year of a seven-year program and were due to revote this year. Regions Two and Three wanted to refinance so they could lower their assessments for the years remaining on their programs.
“When the eradication program looked at the debt that was owed across all the areas, they were within a dollar of being equal across all the regions,” said Seward.
“Region One voted to refinance one year of an active program, some debt for extra spraying and a nine-year maintenance program. Regions Two and Three voted to refinance three years of active programs and seven years of maintenance.”
The overwhelming approval is a testament to the benefits of the program, noted Seward. “We have had three of the highest yields on record in west Tennessee the last three years. If you compare those three years to the decade of the 1990s, we have increased yields by 154 pounds.
“We know that Bt cotton and new varieties have contributed to that. But we feel that eradication has contributed to it significantly.”