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State boll weevil numbers plunge
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Five years of eradication efforts are making the boll weevil a scarce pest in Mississippi cotton.
The most recent counts show the state has less than 1 percent of the boll weevils it had in fields last year. By late July 2000, about 1.1 million boll weevils had been trapped in Mississippi's cotton fields. This year, 10,442 have been captured. Last year's numbers were down more than 50 percent from the previous year.
Jeannine Smith, executive director of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation, said workers bait boll weevil traps and set them out the first of May for weekly counts until the first hard frost or cotton harvest. Boll weevils are caught in green, cone-shaped plastic and wire traps placed on poles around cotton fields.
"Close to 98 percent of Mississippi's cotton fields have had no weevils trapped this year," Smith said. "Of those fields where boll weevils have been trapped, the state average is .0006 weevils per acre."
Boll weevil eradication is a coordinated effort that is moving west across the United States in a scheduled progression. It was started in parts of eastern Mississippi in August 1997, and now includes the whole state.
Mississippi is divided into four regions, with Regions 3, the central and southwestern part of the state, and Region 4, the eastern-most counties, being the first in the program. Region 2, the south Delta, joined the program in 1998 and Region 1, the north Delta, joined in 1999. In each region, growers voted to enter the program and be assessed fees for five years.
These annual per acre fees cover the costs of spraying affected fields with malathion for boll weevil control. Spraying by aerial and ground application is done when certain numbers of boll weevils are trapped in a field.
"The cost of participation in the program is less than what the grower himself would have to pay to spray for the weevils," Smith said. "The areas that have been in the program the longest have the fewest numbers of boll weevils."
With eradication well underway, growers in Region 3 and 4 recently voted to enter a maintenance program for the next 10 years. Region 2 will vote in 2002 and Region 1 in 2003 on whether to enter this maintenance program at the completion of active eradication.
"The program has been extremely successful, and we look forward to finishing eradication and maintaining a state free of boll weevils," Smith said. "This is the first year that Mississippi is surrounded by states involved in boll weevil eradication. We had been the buffer zone between eradicated and non-eradicated areas, but as the program continues to spread west, we'll move out of that buffer zone."
Aubrey Harris, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station entomologist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said boll weevils moved into Texas from Mexico in 1892. They moved east across the Cotton Belt, entering Mississippi in 1907 and reaching the East Coast by 1922.
"Eradication is a comprehensive insect management program, with the goal of eliminating every last one of them in the country," Harris said.
Eradication is working well in Mississippi. 2000 was the first year on record with no losses to boll weevils.
"We're dealing now with extremely low numbers of boll weevils that are actually undetectable by normal methods," Harris said. "If you were visually scouting cotton fields, you probably wouldn't find weevils or weevil damage. Last year, there were still a few fields where weevils could be visually detected late in the season. I expect that to be very rare in 2001."
Eradication efforts are being continued to prevent reinfestation as the program moves west. Harris said careful monitoring must be done for the next 10 years to ensure the weevil does not get another stronghold in the state. Weevils can advance about 50 miles a year through normal migration, but can travel cross-country in days hitchhiking on vehicles or farm equipment.