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Boll weevil referendum fails despite majority
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The majority of cotton growers in the north Mississippi Delta want to take part in region-wide efforts to eradicate boll weevils in their fields, but another referendum will be necessary if the Southeastern program will continue locally after 2003.
On June 20, Farm Service Agency offices counted cotton growers' ballots that would place north Delta counties into a 10-year maintenance program after the five-year eradication effort concludes. Bolivar, Coahoma and Washington counties gave the maintenance program a 58 percent favorable vote. Leflore, Quitman, Sunflower, Tunica and west Tallahatchie counties supported the program with 55 percent of the vote. The referendum required more than a 66 percent vote for passage.
The Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corps board of directors has scheduled another referendum for Aug. 4-15.
"Given the success of the eradication effort, we were surprised and disappointed that more than 66 percent of the growers voting did not support the maintenance program," said John Swayze, president of the MBWMC board. "The long-term benefits far outweigh the alternative."
Growers will vote on annual assessments of not more than $12 per acre. To have a valid referendum, 50 percent of the eligible growers must return ballots and more than 66 percent must vote in favor. Swayze, a cotton grower in Yazoo County, said program managers hope actual assessments will be between $8 and $10 for the next couple of years, then drop even lower to $6 to $8 per acre.
Will McCarty, cotton specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said there are many good reasons for continuing the program, especially the overall benefit for the cotton industry.
"Growers across the Cotton Belt have worked very hard to get us to this point, and the goal is to push boll weevils back to Mexico," McCarty said. "Another important benefit is the reduction in the total amount of pesticides going into our environment thanks to this program. This is a win-win situation for growers and nongrowers alike."
McCarty said some growers may worry about the $12 maximum per acre. However, he said growers should realize that the odds of maintenance payments reaching the maximum are very small.
"At this point, the program practically guarantees zero yield losses to boll weevils, and growers will never have to worry about control or losses again as long as eradication is maintained," McCarty said.
The current eradication program started in Mississippi's eastern counties in 1997 and progressed annually westward. The north Delta regions voted to join the five-year program in 1999.