The good news continues for Mississippi cotton producers: No boll weevils were trapped in 2013, and the state is now in its sixth year of freedom from the pest that that ravaged the nation’s cotton crops for more than a century.

Except for the Rio Grande Valley area of south Texas and an adjacent area across the Rio Grande River in Mexico, the weevil has been officially eradicated across the cotton belt.

It is estimated that yield losses and control costs for the decades-long battle against the pest amounted to more than $23 billion. At one time, more than 40 percent of all insecticides used in agriculture were applied to cotton; many growers sprayed as many as 15 times during a season and still sustained heavy losses.

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In 1977, a pilot boll weevil eradication project was successfully conducted in south Mississippi, paving the way for a full eradication program. A coordinated large scale effort in Virginia and North Carolina in 1979 further demonstrated that eradication could work, and the program subsequently spread to other states.

The beltwide eradication program, which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, has been a cooperative effort between the USDA and state officials. Assessments levied on cotton growers have paid 70 percent of the cost, with APHIS paying the remaining 30 percent. In some areas, state contributions helped offset grower costs.

“The success of this program is a tribute to the cooperation, determination, and dedication of everyone involved in the U.S. cotton industry,” says Farrell Boyd, director of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation, who provided a post-eradication update at the organization’s annual joint meeting with the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation Cotton Policy Committee.

Mississippi producers have planted an estimated 400,000 acres of cotton this year, a substantial increase from last year’s historically low 280,000 acres. “Also, we have cotton in three counties — Wayne, Hancock, and Harrison — where it hasn’t been grown in a very long time,” Boyd says.