Bye-Bye Boll Weevil

February 1, 2009 06:00 PM
Barney Pustejovsky recalls when, only a few years ago, many cotton growers opposed efforts to organize a boll weevil eradication program for the Northern Blacklands zone of Texas.

"You can't find much opposition anymore,” reports the Abbott, Texas, producer. "A lot of farmers never saw a single weevil this year.”
That attitude is fairly typical throughout much of the Cotton Belt as the national eradication effort marches relentlessly toward its targeted goal to eliminate the boll weevil from North America by 2010.

USDA and the National Cotton Council estimate that for every dollar spent to eradicate the pest, producers gain a minimum of $12 in reduced production costs and increased yield.

Bill Grefenstette, USDA's national coordinator for boll weevil eradication, says many growers are seeing an even greater return on their investment in the program. Some report that they recover their costs after only a season or two of not having to fight weevils. Spraying for weevils tends to kill beneficial insects, unleashing other pest problems.

Grefenstette reports that 2008 marked another year of overall progress. The cutback in planted cotton acres was helpful, resulting in fewer acres requiring treatment.

"We started the year with 91% of the base acres eradicated,” he says. "We estimate we'll end up with 96% of acres weevil-free.” Areas still working toward weevil-free status include pockets of the mid-South and eastern and southern Texas.

"The mid-South is basically weevil-free,” Grefenstette continues, referring to the region where southeastern Arkansas, northeastern Louisiana and the southwestern Mississippi Delta intersect. This area saw a spike in weevil catches late in the 2007 season. This year, only one weevil was trapped in Mississippi all season. Nevertheless, workers will continue to monitor the fields for several seasons to ensure that there are no residual populations to cause reinfestations, he says.

"We trapped fewer than 20 weevils all season in the area north of Memphis, so essentially that area, along with western Missouri and northeastern Arkansas, is completed,” he adds.

After a zone is eradicated, trap monitoring protects against reinfestation. Growers pay a significantly reduced assessed rate designed to cover monitoring costs and to repay any indebtedness that may have been incurred.

Charles Allen, program director for the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation Inc., reports that more than 4 million acres of that state's cotton acreage is virtually free of boll weevil. However, late-season tropical storms created difficult conditions for the program in the South Texas Winter Garden and the Lower Rio Grande Valley and may have set back the timetable for completion.

The fact that Mexico is also engaged in boll weevil eradication is taking pressure off the U.S. by helping prevent migration of insects northward across the international border.

"The Mexican government had a change in administration in 2007,” Grefenstette notes. "We are working to cultivate the support of newly appointed officials and encouraging them to commit the necessary resources to continue the program. So far, we've been pleased that their support for the eradication program appears as strong as ever.”

Grefenstette says he sees little on the horizon to prevent the eradication effort from meeting its nationwide objective by 2010.

"Post eradication” zones have been free of weevils for a given period of time and are no longer considered a threat. "Eradication” refers to zones where efforts to eliminate the weevil are still ongoing.

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