Argentina stumbles in boll weevil fight

Last year I reported on the status of the boll weevil in Argentina. The last hope for stopping its spread was in the Chaco Province of northern Argentina.

Unfortunately, it managed to infest approximately one-half of the cotton in the Chaco Province during the last growing season. The areas infested are composed primarily of small farms — less than 5 acres each. Thus the half infested does not represent one-half of the cotton production in the province; the western half represents more than half the production.

Extension personnel are looking for alternatives for the small farmers in the north who use their cotton harvest to barter for food and other essentials. Honey production and grapefruit were options being considered. The arrival of the boll weevil may spell the end of cotton production on the small farms.

If there is a bright side to the situation, it is that the area not yet infested is in the western part of the province where the larger farms are. These operations are more progressive and have a better chance of dealing with the problem.

Their best chance is to implement a program like the post-eradication measures now being used in the United States. Although the weapons we use to prevent re-infestation are simple — pheromone traps and rapid response when weevils are detected — they must be employed in 100 percent of the cotton acreage.

In fact, 100 percent grower participation is an essential component of the entire eradication effort in our country. Thus the role of the government is essential, because of its role in enforcing mandatory participation laws.

We had flown north from Buenos Aires to Corientes, and from there drove west three hours to the town of Charata. On approaching the town it was easy to imagine I was back in any agricultural area of the United States. Billboards advertised John Deere and Bayer and other companies and products familiar to us in this country.

At a meeting Extension leaders and researchers reported on the devastating effects of weevil infestations in Brazil and Paraguay. There was a sense that if ever anything is done about the further spread, now is the time to do it.

So the last stand against the boll weevil in the Western Hemisphere is in the western part of the Chaco Province of Argentina, and on limited acreages in parts of four more provinces. Bolivia does not have the boll weevil, but has only about 12,000 acres of cotton and enjoys isolation from cotton in Argentina.

The larger growers in Argentina seem willing and able to do something, but they realize that the government must also be willing to help. They have several other options for crops, primarily sorghum, sunflowers and soybeans, in case profit margins don't permit paying for controlling the boll weevil.

Gerald McKibben is a retired research entomologist who worked at the USDA Boll Weevil Laboratory in Starkville, Miss.

TAGS: Cotton
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