As of July 2, the number of boll weevils trapped in Mississippi was 60 percent below the same time a year ago.

“But what's really exciting,” says Farrell Boyd, director of the state's Boll Weevil Eradication Program, “is that 91 percent of the state's cotton fields were weevil-free as of that date. I feel we're making impressive strides against this pest — we're hitting ‘em hard.”

Statewide, he says, weevil numbers on a per-acre basis are down better than 98 percent from the time the program was initiated in 1998. “To me, this is an indication we're on the right course and very close to achieving eradication.”

Growers attending the annual meeting of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation at Grenada, Miss., were advised that of the 61 cotton-growing counties in the state, 29 had trapped no weevils as of July 2 and three others had found but a single insect.

“Last year,” he says, “we had a lot of rainfall and aerial applicators were grounded at some key periods following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, so there were some areas where we actually lost some ground. This year has gone a lot smoother operationally.”

Region-by-region results were cited by Boyd through July 2:

  • North Delta, 247 weevils captured; 95.55 percent of fields weevil-free. “There is a hot spot west of Robinsonville where 75 percent of the region's catches have occurred.”
  • Central Delta, 720 weevils captured; 95.23 percent of fields weevil-free. “Ninety percent of the catches were in a hot spot west of Scott.”
  • South Delta, 340 weevils captured; 88.74 percent of fields weevil-free.
  • East Mississippi, 4 weevils captured; 99.66 percent of fields weevil-free.
  • Central Mississippi, 10,399 weevils captured; 86.79 percent of fields weevil-free. “There continues to be a hot spot in Yazoo County; about 70 percent of the captures have occurred on 16,000 acres in the county.”

Changing production methods in recent years have made the elimination of the boll weevil all the more important to the state's cotton growers, Boyd said.

Referring to information from Mississippi Extension Entomologist Blake Layton, he noted that “most of the insecticides used today provide no boll weevil control.”

Bt cotton varieties, which now comprise 80 percent of the state's acreage, receive an average of only two pesticide applications for caterpillar pests.

Layton estimates that, without the eradication program, reinfestation by the boll weevil would occur in two to three years.

Yield losses attributed to the boll weevil average 1 percent to 3 percent, his figures show, or 10 pounds to 30 pounds per acre for 2-bale cotton. At 60 cents per pound, that's $30 to $72 per acre.

“Many growers have found, to their sorrow, how devastating this pest can be,” Boyd says,

Harry Fulton, director of plant pest programs for the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry at Jackson, said, “When farmers act collectively in combating a pest, the results achieved are much more effective than when everyone does it individually. The boll weevil eradication program is an excellent example of the results from a cooperative program.”

If quarantine measures should be required, either because of an area's non-participation or because of a hot spot following eradication, “Our agency would oversee it. We hope no quarantine will be necessary.”

There is discussion, Fulton said, of federal quarantine provisions, “which we in Mississippi would want to support in order to prevent any spread across state lines.”

Funding for the state's weevil eradication effort now totals $210 million from all sources, he said. Of that amount $131 million represents grower assessments.

One problem in some areas, he said, has been stalk destruction, a component of the eradication program. “We've been somewhat lenient about it thus far, but we've been getting quite a few complaints about growers not complying. If this continues year after year, it may be necessary to levy penalties on those who don't destroy stalks within the required time period.”


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com