Do cotton producers in northwest Mississippi want to throw away the $110 an acre they've invested in boll weevil eradication over the past five years to save $6 to $8 per acre over the next 10?
That's one of the questions board members for regions 1A and 1B of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Eradication Program are asking as they prepare for an August referendum on the maintenance phase of the program in the two regions.
“If we don't pass this referendum, in three years we'll be right back where we started,” said Tripp Hayes, a cotton producer and Region 1B board member from Coahoma County. “Except this time it will cost more to wipe them out again because we will lose the federal and Southeast Foundation money we had the first time.”
Cotton farmers cast 825 votes or 55 percent of the total in favor of beginning a maintenance program in a June referendum, but state law requires 66 percent approval for a maintenance program.
State law also requires growers in all four eradication regions to vote on the same assessment fee. Farmers in regions 2, 3 and 4 previously approved a $12 per acre assessment fee.
Although board members are locked into putting the $12 figure on the referendum ballots, they have been quick to point out they don't anticipate growers having to pay the full $12 an acre — if they can continue the maintenance program with no interruptions from the full eradication program that began in August 1999.
“We have to maintain a contingency fund to handle the equivalent of two sprays per acre in case we have an emergency,” said Murry McClintock, a cotton producer and Region 1A board member from Tunica County. “We figure that will cost us about $8 an acre.”
Given the dramatic reduction in boll weevil numbers in the region, program managers don't anticipate they will have to make any region-wide sprays. But they will hit any area where the weevil shows up with everything but the kitchen sink.
“If you get re-infestation by the weevil, you have to hit that area very intensely to make sure you get rid of them,” said Farrell Boyd, program manager for the Southeast Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, which runs the eradication program in Mississippi. “We will spray the whole area where we find a boll weevil, not just one field.”
Boyd says it's difficult to predict costs because of the uncertainty of dealing with a biological pest, but he and board members believe the region's farmers will not pay more than $8 to $10 per acre the first two years and $6 to $8 after that.
“Each fall, we will sit down and look at what the program in regions 1A and 1B cost us that year, what progress was made and then project what will be required the following year,” he said. “A budget will then be developed based on those figures and projections.”
“We're paying the same assessment everyone else is, and I can assure you we're not going to set it any higher than it has to be,” said Rick Parsons, producer and Region 1A board member from Vance, Miss.
Parsons says Mississippi growers have made a greater investment in eradicating the boll weevil than farmers in southeastern states that began eradication earlier primarily because Mississippi was the first state to go into a program after the introduction of Bollgard cotton.
“Bt cotton eliminated a lot of the pesticide sprays for bollworms and tobacco budworms that also were effective on boll weevils,” he noted. “So we have had to spray more often to make up for the lack of those applications. Our program has had to be extended because of that.”
(Board members also point out that the federal appropriations obtained by Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran also helped reduce their program costs substantially. “If it wasn't for Sen. Cochran's help, our program would easily have cost us $40 to $50 an acre,” said Kenneth Hood, cotton producer and chairman of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp.)
Many producers have had to spray for tarnished plant bugs, but few of the insecticides used for that pest also control boll weevils, according to Blake Layton, Extension cotton entomologist with Mississippi State University.
Layton says that could be one of a number of factors that would have an impact on cotton producers if they failed to continue the eradication effort. (See accompanying article.)
Some say that cotton producers would have a difficult time controlling boll weevils if they were allowed to re-infest the entire state within three to four years as Layton and others predict.
“If growers aren't spraying for tobacco budworms and bollworms then they would probably have to go back to spraying every three to five days because methyl parathion — the boll weevil material of choice — did not provide much residual control of weevils,” one producer said. “I don't know if we have enough airplanes to do that again.”
Parsons says he understands that some Region 1 growers are concerned because producers in Region 3 or the central portion of the state are paying $12 per acre for their maintenance program.
Comparing the situations in the two regions is like comparing apples and oranges, says Boyd. “We have two areas in Region 3 that have been hot spots for years and have proven very difficult to control. We don't anticipate having any areas like those in regions 1A and 1B.”
Board members have been conducting a series of information meetings in regions 1A and 1B in advance of the Aug. 4-15 referendum, but Boyd asks that any producer who has questions about the eradication program call him at 601-922-3161.