Efforts to rid Arkansas of the boll weevil progressed well in 2007. “We surpassed our goals this year,” says Danny Kiser, head of the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program.
“There was a decrease of over 95 percent in boll weevil trap captures in both the Northeast Delta and Northeast Ridge zones in just one season.
“We had good reductions in the Central Zone but had a small migration issue. At the end of the year, that migration problem slowed significantly.
“We're catching very low numbers of weevils statewide. The only area with significant weevil populations is along the Louisiana line. We're currently working on ways to cooperate with adjacent states to resolve the issues involved.”
As for assessments, “They're holding steady. We have an assessment of $10 in the Southwest Zone, $12 in the Southeast and Central zones, and $8 in the Ridge Zone.”
Debt payments are on track, says Kiser. “We're paying notes as scheduled. At the next meeting, the ABWE Foundation board will deal with allocations of extraordinary costs across several zones. Those costs are due mostly to migration. But we continue to make good progress toward paying down the debt.”
The active part of the program is “certainly winding down. In the last three weeks, we've caught only six weevils in the Northeast Delta Zone.”
The only zone the Arkansas State Plant Board directly oversees is the Northeast Delta Zone.
“The 2008 fee has been (recommended by the State Plant Board's boll weevil committee) at $14 per acre,” says Terry Walker, director of the Arkansas State Plant Board Plant Industry Division. “For the first year of the program in the Northeast Delta Zone, the assessment was $8 per acre. That was during diapause. There were other moneys available and that helped keep costs down.”
Since then, the zone's assessment has been set at $14 per acre. The current recommendation won't be set prior to a public hearing on Dec. 18. The full Plant Board will vote after that hearing.
“It was decided to look at assessments on an annual basis,” says Walker. “That way, if progress is made, conditions warrant and financial situations allow, the fees can be adjusted accordingly. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, those fees will revised downward. But now it's holding steady at $14.”
How might the drop in cotton acres affect the ability to fund the program and pay off debt?
Outside the Northeast Delta Zone, “the eradication program was established by referendum and adopted by producers' vote,” says Walker. “During that referendum the fee schedules were established.”
The referendum mandated when the maintenance phase was reached a maximum fee was to be set. In some zones that maximum was $12 and in others it was $10.
“When debt is paid down, the weevils are eradicated and we're on down the road, those maintenance assessments will be set by the Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation.
“Obviously, when there were many more cotton acres, the financial outlay to carry on the program was based on X number of acres. As those acres declined, the income from the current cotton acreage has been reduced. That should have some impact on what level the (maintenance) assessments are set.”
Kiser says the acreage drop “won't have a major affect on us as far as year-to-year operation costs. It will have a significant effect in our ability to pay down debt. As income is reduced, it also reduces our ability to pay off debts at the same level. It is a concern.”
Early planting intention reports for next season are mixed.
“Some areas may increase acreage and some may decrease. But we hope the Arkansas cotton acreage will remain steady in 2008. If 2008 acreage stays at current levels, it will be good news because cotton acreage took a fall last year — about 23 percent statewide. The good news is this year we made more progress than we expected. That helps us stay in budget even with the lost income.”
Regardless, “We're nearing maintenance all over the state. There are only several pockets of any size left. We'll be going after those next spring and will be very close to being completely done.”