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Cotton Farmers Take Deadly Aim At Pests
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi cotton growers have been battling boll weevils for almost 100 years, but the real war is just beginning.
Cotton growers in Mississippi's hill section and south Delta voted last January to join other Southeastern states in an intensive boll weevil eradication program. The effort in the hill section begins the first week of August with aerial spraying of all cotton fields to prevent weevils from entering diapause, the stage of overwinter preparation. South Delta efforts begin in the fall of 1998.
"If the weather cooperates, we should begin aerial applications Aug. 4, and all fields should be sprayed the first time by Aug. 9," said Jim Brumley, executive director of the Southeast Boll Weevil Foundation in Montgomery, Ala.
"Every field should have traps provided by the Foundation in place by Aug. 4. If growers find a field without the traps, they should contact their field unit supervisors," Brumley said. "The Foundation also will post white flags no later than just after the first application that will have information on the spraying date and time."
Dr. Blake Layton, extension cotton entomologist at Mississippi State University, said weevil control has been interesting for growers this year.
"An unusually mild winter resulted in high populations, but the lateness of the crop enabled growers to get the maximum benefit from pinhead square applications," Layton said.
The program is budgeted to average 10 sprayings per field. Layton said fields will begin with a series of three treatments at five- day intervals, followed by four treatments at seven-day intervals. If needed, individual fields will be treated three more times at 10- to 14-day intervals.
"While the casual observers will see more spraying in August than normal, the payoff will be less spraying in the years to come," Layton said. "The program is using malathion, which is the same chemical used in many municipal mosquito programs and home gardens."
Layton said the primary objective of these treatments is to minimize overwintering weevils. A side advantage for growers who have effectively controlled boll weevils up to program start-up is they probably won't personally have to apply additional weevil control. Malathion also helps control tarnish plant bugs.
Dr. Will McCarty, extension cotton agronomist, said the August efforts will afford this year's growers "an opportunity to set a tremendous top crop."
McCarty said growers normally sacrifice the top fruit to boll weevils because the value of late season treatments are minimal.
"Because of the difficulty the crop has had with excessive rains, the top crop may be the only crop some farmers see," he said.
"To see the greatest benefit, growers will need to monitor fertility and not defoliate too early," McCarty said.
Mississippi law requires growers to certify all cotton fields with the Farm Service Agency by Aug. 1, which is when the assessments also are due. Farmers in the state's easternmost counties, known as Region IV, agreed to $20 per acre, and farmers in the rest of the hill counties, known as Region III, voted to pay $24 per acre to fund the program.