It was a dream of Mississippi cotton growers for decades — the elimination of the crop-destroying boll weevil — but it was not until a new century that the dream was realized.
The last boll weevil detected in the state was June 1, 2008, and growers are now entering the fifth year of weevil-free production.
“We’ve come a long, long way,” says Coley Bailey, Jr., Grenada, Miss., grower and president of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation which has directed the multi-year eradication effort. “We all owe a vote of thanks to everyone who got this program off the ground and all those who joined in over the years to make it successful,” he said at the organization’s annual meeting.
“Mississippi growers have put a ton of money into this program,” said Bernie Jordan, the organization’s treasurer, “but the rewards from our investment have been great: the weevil is no longer robbing us of yields.”
All the surrounding states in the Southeast and Mid-South are now in eradication status, according to Farrell Boyd, manager of the program.
“The main risk we still have is in south Texas, the only place where weevils still are a problem, primarily in the Rio Grande Valley. They’ve caught over 12,000 weevils this year. They’re facing some serious problems — and those problems are also our problems. We consider it a real threat, primarily because of the movement of equipment between areas.
“We ask growers to please help us: If you know of anyone who’s going to haul modules and pick cotton in that area, or if you know of anyone from there who’ll be bringing equipment here, please make us aware so we can check the equipment and make sure it’s clean before it comes into the state. Tell your neighbors about this, too.”
Another problem, Boyd says, is several thousand acres of cotton in Mexico just across the Rio Grande river from Texas, with movement of weevils out of Mexico into Texas “a real concern.”
Another major concern there is volunteer cotton, he says. “In virtually every crop down there, from sugar cane to corn to you-name-it, you’ll find volunteer cotton. It’s also along roadways and on ditchbanks, and in that subtropical environment it can grow year-round. Boll weevil reproduction in these other crops is a serious matter.”
Because of the area’s proximity to the bordering river and the illicit drug situation, the eradication program there has a problem retaining employees, Boyd says. “Experienced, dedicated employees are a necessity to achieve eradication.
“All this is our problem, too. We’ve got a lot invested in our program and we want to do everything possible to prevent reinfestation. It may come to the point that a buffer zone has to be established in south Texas.
“Growers there have been in the program for a number of years, at a cost of $14 to $28 per acre, and they’re still not close to eradication.”