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Cotton growers support boll weevil referendum
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- With zero boll weevils in 98 percent of Mississippi's cotton fields, growers appear eager to continue the eradication program that has brought them this far.
Growers in Mississippi's south Delta counties are the most recent to agree to a 10-year program to continue eradication and maintenance efforts at not more than $12 per acre annually. This vote came just before the conclusion of five consecutive years in the boll weevil eradication program. The Farm Service Agency counted votes on July 25 for growers in Region 2 of Mississippi's Boll Weevil Eradication Program.
"We had a valid referendum because more than 50 percent of the eligible growers returned ballots and more than the required 66 percent voted in favor," said Jeannine Smith, executive director of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp. "Almost 72 percent of the growers in Region 2 (Mississippi's south Delta counties) approved the program by about 71 percent."
Blake Layton, cotton entomologist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the maintenance program is important because of isolated hot spots of boll weevil activity, even after the first five years of eradication efforts.
"We will always face the risk of weevils returning, so maintenance in weevil-free areas is imperative," Layton said.
Boll Weevil Eradication Program data indicates that 22 counties in Mississippi are boll weevil free. Statewide, 98 percent of the state's cotton fields are free of the pest, which has been considered cotton's No. 1 enemy since the early 1900s.
"History teaches us that boll weevils move very quickly across cotton-growing regions. Weevils entered the state in the Natchez area in 1907, were in Corinth seven years later and were completely across to Virginia by 1922," Layton said. "Modern transportation greatly increases the potential for boll weevil reinfestations to occur by carrying them stowed away on vehicles moving from one region to another."
Layton said the best news for growers is that once involved in a successful eradication program, they will not personally do any spraying for or have any yield losses to weevils. In the past, many growers could expect to lose 4 to 5 percent of their cotton crop to weevils. Arrival of Bt cotton, which is resistant to tobacco budworms, has helped reduce the use (and cost) of foliar sprays even more.
Six years ago, every cotton field in the state had to contend with boll weevils. This year, every one of the state's 1.15 million cotton acres is involved in a five-year boll weevil eradication effort or subsequent maintenance program. The boll weevil eradication program began in Mississippi's eastern counties in 1997 and has progressed to the west. Regions 3 and 4 (the hill counties) completed their five-year program in 2001 and entered the maintenance program this year. Region 1 (north Delta) growers will complete their five-year program next year.