Cotton growers in portions of Mississippi and Craighead counties in northeast Arkansas have again rejected a boll weevil eradication program for their area.
The vote was close, with 60.3 percent of growers and landowners voting for the program. Sixty-six percent was required for passage. In a referendum last fall, 61 percent cast votes in favor of the program.
“The mood was pretty somber today,” said Joe Burns, a producer from Rector, Ark., and chairman of the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program. “We got the same vote count today (Feb. 27) after a concerted advertising effort to get out the vote. We didn't increase the votes much (from the last referendum) and didn't increase the positive votes.”
Burns said that unofficially, Mississippi County cast 428 votes for and 299 against the referendum and Craighead County voted 200 for and 115 against.
The number of ballots cast in the last two referenda “were almost identical,” Burns said. “It seems like everyone's mind is pretty much made up.”
Burns said the faltering farm economy didn't help the cause. “Everybody is waiting on the farm bill to get thrashed out, and those two counties may be impacted as hard as any in the nation by the Grassley amendment. I think that proposal cost us some votes.”
The northeast Arkansas Delta area now joins Texas' St. Lawrence area, lower Rio Grande Valley and Northern Blacklands around Dallas as the only regions in the United States not participating in official boll weevil eradication.
According to Burns, officials in states/counties surrounding northeast Arkansas are already talking about a quarantine for the coming year. A quarantine could require cleaning of any seed cotton, equipment and cotton products transported from a contaminated area into an eradicated area.
Farmers who produce cotton both inside and outside the quarantine area, “would have to clean equipment before they brought it from the infested zone into an eradicated zone,” Burns said. “It could be a real nightmare. I hate that we would get into a situation like that.”
Frank Carter, manager, pest management and regulatory issues, at the National Cotton Council, said a quarantine “is kind of like a Band-Aid. It can do a good job of stopping weevils from being transported on equipment from an infested area to an eradicated area, but it can't stop weevils from flying from one area to another.”
In last fall's referendum, growers in the area were to pay $70 per acre over a seven-year period for eradication. In the February referendum, however, the assessment was reduced to $50 per acre over five years in a low-pressure area within Mississippi County known as Buffalo Island. The area contains 103,000 acres of cotton.
“I really wanted it to pass,” Burns said. “It would have been good for cotton growers across the Mid-South. Now the area is like the Afghanistan of boll weevil eradication. It's the refuge of our enemy (boll weevils).”
Ballots were counted Feb. 27 after the deadline for returning them was delayed from Feb. 15 to Feb. 22 because of mailing problems.
Burns isn't sure what the future holds for eradication in the two-county area. But should the farm economic situation improve, “we would always be open to working with those growers in that area.”