Mississippi is now in its seventh year of zero boll weevils, and “that’s a mighty good feeling for our cotton growers,” says Farrell Boyd, program manager for the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation.
The pest that, over decades, cost the state’s growers millions of dollars in lost yield and control measures, has been declared officially eradicated for the past six seasons and, says Boyd, “We want to keep it that way.”
To that end, he said at the annual joint meeting of the corporation and the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Cotton Policy Committee, “We’re going to continue the program of surveillance trapping that we’ve been operating the past several years throughout the state. We will be servicing weevil traps within a half mile of every cotton field in the state. We feel this is adequate to detect any reproduction that might occur in any cotton field.
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“We don’t map the fields any more — we don’t have the personnel and money to do that. But the men who are running these traps are experienced; they know every field that’s ever been planted in cotton, and they’ll be keeping a close watch on things.”
South Texas still has weevils
Mississippi's cotton acreage is down from 2014’s 408,518 acres, Boyd noted, with an estimated 310,000 acres this year after cold, wet weather took a toll on the originally projected 350,000 acres.
“It sure hurts to see the downturn that has occurred,” he says. “All through late 1990s and early 2000s, we were planting 1 million acres or better. The lowest acreage on record was in 2009, with only 270,000 acres, and in 2013 we had only 290,000 acres.”
While eradication has been a long-term success across nearly all the cotton belt, a continuing challenge remains in the lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, just across the Rio Grande River from Mexico, Boyd says.
“This is the only boll weevil population we still have in the U.S. Although the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation is carrying out a very aggressive eradication program, with Mexico so close you can chunk a rock across the river, they’re up against a difficult situation. They’re nowhere close to what needs to be done to keep weevils from flooding into south Texas from Mexico.
“Until Mexico changes their policies and procedures, eradication in that area is going to be very difficult. In view of this, the National Cotton Council’s Boll Weevil Action Committee has taken steps to establish a national buffer zone in the Rio Grande Valley to prevent weevils from moving north, east, and west into areas of the cotton belt where eradication has already been achieved.”
Texas “is bearing the brunt of the cost” for that effort, he says. “In order to help offset that expense, the U.S. cotton grower leadership agreed to establish a fund to help offset costs that might exceed what Texas would normally be spending.
“It was agreed that each state would contribute up to 75 cents per acre each year to support this program. The first year’s contribution level was set at 50 cents, but none of the money had to be used, so it was put into a contingency fund. Last fall, the Boll Weevil Action Committee set the contribution rate this year at 25 cents per acre. Whether any of the money will have to be used this year is unknown at this point. But it is hoped that efforts under way in Texas will prevent weevils from moving out of that area and into eradicated areas of the cotton belt.
“We are grateful to Mississippi cotton growers for their support of the surveillance trapping program, and to Bureau of Plant Industry personnel for their assistance in helping to monitor equipment moving from the south Texas area back into our state.”