Eradication up for vote again in Delta

Farrell Boyd blames himself for the latest blow to the boll weevil eradication effort in the Mississippi Delta. “We didn't get enough factual information out to growers before the previous referendum. We didn't hold any educational meetings, and our mail-outs were apparently not sufficient,” says Boyd, director of the Southeast Boll Weevil Management Corp.

In June, Delta growers failed to approve a referendum authorizing a 10-year maintenance program, which carries with it a maximum grower assessment of $12 per acre. Now, cotton growers in regions 1A and 1B once again must decide whether or not they want to continue in the effort to eradicate the boll weevil from their cotton fields.

A second referendum was held Aug. 4-15, and Boyd tried to dispel any grower misunderstandings before growers turned in their ballots to their local FSA offices.

“The cost will not be $12 per acre,” Boyd says. “This has been the hardest thing to get out to producers. We're reducing our costs, and we will pass those savings on to the cotton growers in the regions. We have made projections of what the costs of the programs will be, and we've even left a little wiggle room because we can't say for sure what it will cost to run this program.”

The Boll Weevil Management Corporation says it has budgeted $8 to $10 per acre to run the maintenance program for 2004-05; it has budgeted $6 to $8 per acre for 2006-13 and says that cost could be lowered to $5 per acre.

Much of the cost savings are expected to come from advances in the lures used to attract boll weevils to the green-apple colored traps lining the turn rows and ditches of the Delta's cotton fields. A recently developed lure is said to last four weeks, which would allow trap surveillance to be increased to three-week intervals. This would greatly decrease the number of people needed to check traps, and could completely eliminate the need for part-time personnel, according to Boyd.

Reductions in eradication program costs in Mississippi are also being achieved by reductions in overhead, trap densities, and malathion treatments.

“Costs will be reduced,” promises Boyd. “In other post-eradication states, the newer boll weevil attractants have enabled per acre fees to be reduced to $5 in Alabama, $5.50 in Florida, $3.75 in Georgia, and $4 in South Carolina. I can't promise you the cost in Mississippi will be the same as Georgia, but it certainly should be equal to, or cheaper than, program costs in Alabama or the Florida panhandle.”

Boyd says some of the region's cotton growers have expressed concerns about program costs to him, saying they don't feel as if they are getting their money's worth out of the program. However, he says, the consequences of discontinuing the program will be much more costly to growers.

“Without an active eradication program, boll weevils will rapidly re-infest the area. Control costs will be $24 to $54 per acre, yield losses will be $6 to $8 per acre, and a quarantine could be placed on the region, resulting in costs equal to or greater than current program costs,” he says.

By law, the state is authorized to quarantine any region not actively involved in the eradication effort, and the costs related to that could be passed on to cotton growers in the quarantined area. A quarantine would require equipment, seed and such to be certified as “clean” before it is allowed to move to another region actively involved in eradication.

“If allowed to re-infest, the boll weevil would run rampant throughout most of the Delta because of the high amount of acreage planted in transgenic varieties, and the newer pesticides that do not have activity on boll weevils.”

According to Blake Layton, Mississippi Extension entomologist, Bt cotton varieties receive less than two applications of insecticide for caterpillar pests, and most insecticides today provide no weevil control.

Control of these weevils, Boyd says, will require four to nine insecticide applications at an approximate cost of $6 per acre each — $24 to $54 per acre per year.

If growers vote to continue in the program, Boyd says, they are not voting themselves into a hole they can't get out of, because all that's needed for a recall referendum to end the program is a petition by at least 20 percent of the region's cotton growers.

At an Aug. 4 meeting of the Delta Council Research Advisory Committee in Stoneville, Miss., one cotton grower expressed his hesitations about voting for the 10-year maintenance program. “In the two-year period before eradication, I treated only once for boll weevils,” he says. “I would vote for $5 an acre for the maintenance program, but I can't justify paying $12 an acre, because I think that if you get $12 an acre, you are going to spend that $12 per acre.”

Boyd answers, “I can guarantee you will not be charged $12 per acre, but you will not be charged $5 per acre the first year of the maintenance period, either.”

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