The call for a new referendum – tentatively scheduled for the end of January – comes just days after votes for the last were tallied. The two counties – the only Arkansas counties not in a boll weevil eradication program – narrowly rejected the last attempt to bring them into the eradication fold. In the last referendum, 65 percent of the farmers and landlords voted for the program – just 1.7 percent less than the total needed to pass.
Breaking the numbers down, there were 884 total votes cast (compared to 1,042 cast in the previous referendum) with 575 for and 309 against. In Mississippi County, the votes were 68 percent for and 32 percent against. In eastern Craighead County, the votes showed 59 percent for eradication and 41 percent against.
Eradication has failed in the two counties for a number of reasons. Chief among them, according to opponents: boll weevil control in the area often costs producers less than $1 per acre annually.
However, the northeast Arkansas counties are surrounded by fellow cotton-growers involved in eradication efforts. Those eradication areas must maintain buffer zones around the holdouts that cost millions of dollars every year – a key reason for the pressure on the two counties to approve a program.
“We need this county-and-a-half in the program and the Foundation board knows it. There was a motion early in the meeting to split the counties up. That didn’t pass. But when we voted to let the entire region face another referendum, the board acted as one,” says Daryl Little, Arkansas Plant Board director.
What were some of the objections to splitting the two counties?
“You’d still have the problem but it would just be shifted. The buffer zone troubles and expense would still be there,” says Little.
Little says he has no indication that the fifth referendum will do any better or worse. However, a lower voter turnout the last time around is cited as another reason to give eradication another shot.
“I’m hoping that we’ll get more participation this time around. Hopefully, there will be a few more positive votes.”
The new referendum is tentatively set for the last week of January and the first week of February.
The same package presented to farmers last time ($8 per acre annually for 7 years) is being recycled. “Everything is the same. The Southeast Foundation (which has offered a financial package and desire to run eradication in the counties) is still comfortable with the scenario being offered. But this is it. The federal money won’t be there much longer nor will money from the Southeast Foundation.”
Little isn’t sure another round of meetings in the two counties would be productive.
“During this last referendum, meetings were held and the people that came to those already had their minds made up for or against. By now, folks know the issues and I’m just hoping – however they vote – that people just come out and cast a ballot this time.”