Boll weevil committee approves spending plan

The National Cotton Council’s Boll Weevil Action Committee has approved a plan for spending nearly $300 million to complete active eradication programs in seven cotton-producing states. The five-year plan, voted on at the committee’s fall meeting in Memphis, will also guide Congress in appropriating cost-share funds for eradication.

During previous years, each eradication program manager submitted a projected cost estimate for the following year based on the prior year’s progress. The NCC would use that number in discussions with Congress to obtain funding for the coming season.

The five-year plan was “a cost-containing action by the grower leadership to keep the program on track,” noted Bill Grefenstette, national coordinator, Boll Weevil Eradication Program, USDA-APHIS. “It was a voluntary belt-tightening and self-policing move by the grower leadership, which I think was insightful on their part.”

The committee set spending caps for completing active eradication at $114,609,456 in 2007, $84,710,654 in 2008, $46,932,387 in 2009, $34,750,000 in 2010 and $18,500,000 in 2011, for a total of $299,502,497. The federal government is expected to contribute around 30 percent of the anticipated costs.

To set spending caps, each active program submitted a “cost to finish” estimate. “We urged everyone to be very realistic in their cost estimates. It’s a hard sell if the costs get too high,” said Charles Parker, BWAC chairman and a cotton producer from Senath, Mo.

Parker said the cost-to-finish plan should also ease any concern from Congress. “We didn’t feel that costs had gone down like they should have, and we felt that Congress might feel the same way. This five-year plan shows that we’re moving in the right direction.”

In the program’s defense, higher-than-expected costs in some regions were often beyond the control of program managers, according to Parker and Andy Jordan, with the National Cotton Council. “Several years in a row, we had unexpected expenditures. Two hurricanes, Katrina and Rita – and Rita especially – dumped a whole lot of weevils into an eradicated area,” Jordan said.

“Expenses for eradication have gone up, too, just like everything else,” Parker said. “We need to show Congress that we’re making progress, and we are making progress.”

While each zone is expected to keep costs at the budgeted level, if emergency funds are needed “we try to allow for it,” Parker said. “We could move some money from one area to another, but there has to be agreement among the body. We want to keep every program afloat.”

According to the plan, all U.S. cotton growing regions would complete active eradication by 2011. All zones will then be in the post-eradication phase, which the committee defined as when a zone shows no evidence of reproduction of weevils. “You could one or two here or there, but if you don’t get subsequent catches, then there is no evidence of reproduction,” said Frank Carter, with the NCC.

Grefenstette noted that the eradication program is moving into a phase where complacency is as much an adversary as the weevil itself. “Until the fourth quarter if over, it’s not done. For this last 10 percent to 15 percent of the Cotton Belt, we have to maintain momentum and not let our guard down. We must make sure we stay just as aggressive on the last 15 percent as we were on the first 15 percent, and finish up as quickly and as efficiently as we can.

“We fought doubt in the early chapters of the program. Now we have to fight complacency. If we’re not careful, we could have a bad year or two. The weevil is not very forgiving in rebounding his numbers.”

A post eradication subcommittee of the BWEC, chaired by Corpus Christi, Texas cotton producer Craig Shook, will shortly name a working group to work on developing minimum standards for post eradication. That working group will also look into future funding for post eradication.

“We have a healthy respect for what the boll weevil can do, and we are going to have to maintain a diligent monitoring program and be on our toes or we’ll lose what we’ve gained over the years,” Carter noted. “We would expect each state or zone to meet the minimum standards to qualify for any emergency funds for a reinfestation or cost-share funds for post eradication.”

Twenty-two zones will still be in active eradication in 2007. The figure drops to 16 in 2008, nine in 2009, five in 2010 and three in 2011, the year that active eradication is expected to conclude.

Active eradication is now complete in the Pecos Valley, Lea County and Northeast Plains of New Mexico, and the Northern High Plains and El Paso/Trans Pecos regions of Texas. The South Central/Luna County area of New Mexico is expected to be complete in 2009.

Active eradication in Texas is expected to be complete in Rolling Plains Central, Southern High Plains/Caprock, Western High Plains and Northern Rolling Plains in 2007; in the St. Lawrence and Permian Basin areas of Texas in 2008; in the South Texas/Winter Garden and Southern Blacklands in 2010; and in the Upper Coastal Bend, Northern Blacklands and Lower Rio Grande Valley in 2011.

Active eradication is expected to be complete in the Southwest and Central zones of Arkansas in 2007; the Northeast Ridge in 2008; and the Northeast Delta in 2009.

Active eradication is expected to be complete in Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee in 2008, along with Regions 1 and 2 in Mississippi. The Northeast Delta Zone of Arkansas is expected to complete active eradication in 2009.

The U.S. boll weevil program has been helped significantly by weevil and pink bollworm programs in northern Mexico, according to Carter.

“Mexico has really been engaged on both pink bollworm and the boll weevil. They’ve had the leadership at the national level to really get this done. Osama El-Lissy, (director USDA-APHIS invasive species and pest management) has been assisting them with technology and computer programs, organization and training to help get them started.

“That’s really going to help. To have those scattered areas along northern Mexico free of the pink bollworm and particularly the boll weevil is going to help because from there on down south, there is a natural break in cotton production. That is going to help the United States protect against infestation.”

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