After cold winter, initial trap counts: Arkansas weevil eradication effort sitting pretty

The latest little freeze the Delta experienced won't make much difference in terms of insects, says Arkansas Extension entomologist Don Johnson.

“But back during the winter the sustained cold we had for about two weeks did have an effect. I think we reduced the boll weevil population last winter by around 90 percent.”

If you take a normal year, depending on the region of the state, weevils probably range between 8 and 14 percent survival. This year, Arkansas weevil survival was probably at less than 1 percent of the fall population, says Johnson.

“Of course, the fall population was sprayed diapause, which really knocked them back. We went into the winter with the population already knocked back by 95 percent. That small surviving population was then worked over by the cold winter.”

Based on the Arkansas eradication program's trap catches, “we're really pleased with how last year went. Normally, the spring count compared to that same season's fall count shows the fall count being higher — maybe two times higher,” says program head Doug Ladner.

“But in the southeast zone, we had a reduction. We went down from about 14 weevils per trap to around 3.3 weevils. That's significant.”

Last year, the diapause program started in the central zone. For a diapause program to see a reduction between spring to fall is basically unheard of, says Ladner. But numbers went from 25 weevils per trap in the spring to around 16 in the fall.

“We have grower support all over the state. But in the central zone we really have great grower support and awareness. They're very aggressive in keeping their fields unblocked so we can get around easily and whatnot. It really helped us tackle the program.

“The good Lord also gave us a nice winter. We aren't solid on the exact numbers, but our weevil counts were definitely affected. We just checked some 70 traps in the central zone and found 20 weevils. Normally, we'd find at least that many per trap.

“We don't know if they're waiting a bit longer to come out or if their population was really devastated by the weather and eradication program.”

Program workers are currently putting traps out and running trap lines. Following a couple of checking cycles, Ladner and colleagues will have a very good idea of what's happened.

“In three or four weeks we should know what kind of numbers we should gear up for this summer. I'm cautiously optimistic that if things go as we suspect they might, we may be able to knock a year off the program. We won't know that until later, so my hopes aren't up too high.”

Ladner has already held five grower meetings and one thing he constantly brings up is trapper contracts and work.

“We're using wands — or bar-code readers — and stringent contracts that make it very difficult for anyone to (be lazy). We've got every one of our trapper positions filled, which was a major problem last year when we had trouble finding enough trappers. This year, it's been very smooth. I think our trapping program will work great. It has to. We need the trap data to know when to spray.”

The program's computer technology has been upgraded and Ladner has added six quality, upper management personnel “with a lot of experience to the program.”

“This year, we'll also be looking at the northeast Delta. We're starting our ridge zone — along Crowley's Ridge — this year. That'll add around 125,000 acres to the program.”

Another added bonus is that it appears that crops will be planted close together. That means a lot of the crops will be harvested together, thus shortening the season.

“We're very pleased with that. Things just seem to be working out this year so far,” says Ladner.

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