Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on January 26, 1998. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
No Boll Weevils Mean Better Cotton Profits
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's rich soil has a reputation for producing impressive cotton crops, but Georgia's boll weevil-free fields have rapidly become the top Southeast producers.
"When the market is not strong, growers need all the breaks they can get to make a profit," said Dr. Michael Ouart, extension state program leader for agriculture and natural resources at Mississippi State University. "If boll weevils are not a control factor, growers can invest that money in other ways to produce higher yields."
Boll weevils have been eliminated from Virginia around the Southeast to parts of North Alabama and along Mississippi's eastern state line. Growers in Mississippi's hill section and South Delta are joining Southeast growers in the line-drawing battle against cotton's No. 1 pest.
Mississippi's North Delta growers will vote on joining the eradication program in February. If approved, growers will pay $22 per acre annually for five years. Ballots must be postmarked by Feb. 20 and returned to Mississippi's Farm Service Agency.
"It's hard to dispute the benefits growers are experiencing in eradicated states," Ouart said. "New technologies, such as new cotton varieties and pesticides, make 1998 an even better time to join the program."
Mississippi had lead the Southeast and Mid-South in cotton production until 1995 when Georgia planted more acres and ginned more bales. In 1997, Georgia growers planted 1.44 million acres of cotton and Mississippi growers planted 970,000 acres.
Dr. Will McCarty, extension cotton specialist at MSU, said 1997 was the first year since 1983 that Mississippi cotton growers planted less than 1 million acres, and only the third time since record keeping began in 1866. Growers had governmental incentive to reduce acres in 1983 due to abundant supplies.
"We're estimating that 1998 will not be any better and this will be the first time Mississippi planted less than 1 million acres two consecutive years," McCarty said. "That spells trouble for the whole infrastructure of the industry -- gins, chemical dealers, equipment sales, farm labor and so forth."
Dr. Blake Layton, extension entomologist at MSU, said boll weevils have historically been less of a problem in the North Delta than in other areas. This tendancy appears to be changing.
"Bt cotton, which is resistant to tobacco budworms, is resulting in fewer insecticide applications. That is allowing weevil numbers to continue increasing," Layton said. "In addition, none of the new insecticides to control caterpillers in cotton control boll weevils. These new tools are great for controlling caterpiller pests, but leave the gate wide open for boll weevils."
Layton said the cost of weevil control is not measured only in insecticide costs.
"Boll weevils deprive growers of money from direct control efforts, plus direct yield losses to weevils, plus the cost of controlling secondary pests that tend to increase following weevil control efforts, plus the yield losses to secondary pests," Layton said.
"The risk of insect-related yield losses is always greater where boll weevils are present," Layton said. "Sometimes, it is the boll weevils themselves who cause the greatest yield losses, but more commonly, secondary pests cause the real problems with outbreaks triggered by treating for boll weevils."
The upcoming referendum in the North Delta will give Mississippi growers an opportunity to eliminate all their boll weevil concerns. That is, all but the need to maintain weevil-free fields.
After eradication, boll weevil costs are below $5 per acre to ensure fields are protected against weevil hitch-hiking into the area from non-eradicated regions.
"The last year Georgia growers experienced a financial loss to boll weevil damage was in 1987 when they lost about $8 million, or $33.60 per acre," Ouart said. "Additionally, Georgia's boll weevil control costs in 1987 were $68.82 per acre compared to $2.81 per acre in 1995."