Beginning June 5, it will again be time for Mississippi cotton growers to check their mailboxes for ballots that, once tallied, will decide the future of the eradication program in their area.
This time around the referendum being put before cotton growers in eradication regions 3 and 4 will provide cotton growers with the choice between a 10-year boll weevil eradication maintenance program, and no program at all.
Cotton growers in the state's two hill regions will have between the time the ballots are mailed from county Farm Service Agency offices until June 15 to cast their thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote for the eradication program. All votes cast will be tallied June 21.
“I truly believe we'll have an overwhelming majority of growers vote for this maintenance program,” says John Swayze of Yazoo County, Miss., who farms in region 3 and serves as board president for the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp. “At least 50 percent of the cotton growers in regions 3 and 4 will have to vote, and two-thirds of those voting will have to agree to the assessments of $12 per acre annually for the next 10 years for the program to continue.”
Newly approved state legislation authorizes a change in the eradication effort's maintenance program from a period of five years to a period of 10 years. State legislators have also amended the boll weevil law to allow for a maximum annual grower assessment of $12 per acre, instead of the previously set $5-per-acre fee.
According to Bobby Showls, vice chairman of the Mississippi House Agriculture Committee, in addition to the requested extension of the eradication maintenance program to 10 years with a per-acre grower assessment of $12 per year, the legislation includes several changes made by his committee. Included is the requirement that an annual state audit of the program be reported to the state legislature, a clause allowing growers to petition for additional referenda on the program, and a mandate prohibiting any future increases in grower assessments for the maintenance program.
“The new assessments will go to paying off the debts connected to the high costs of eradication and maintaining the program in the years to come,” Swayze says. “We had to go to 10 years so we could amortize the remaining debt we have, because we cannot amortize it over five years without charging cotton producers in the region another $24 per acre per year. It's just like buying a house or a car, paying it over a longer period of time brings down your payment amounts.
“The odds are good that we will get some more financial aid from the government and in some years growers may be able to pay less than $12 per acre for the program. As long as Sen. Thad Cochran stays in Congress, there should be some more help coming, and these assessments should come down below $12 an acre.”
Aubrey Harris, a program advisor and entomologist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., warns growers of the repercussions of not continuing in the eradication program. “I think if the maintenance program is voted out, boll weevil populations in the area could return to pre-eradication numbers within three years. And with favorable weather conditions, weevil populations could increase to pre-eradication levels even sooner than three years.”
Mississippi State University entomologist Blake Layton says individual weevils have been documented to travel as far as 169 miles. “This shows how easily they could re-infest the state and why it is so important to have an effective boll weevil eradication maintenance program in place.”
According to Layton, about $160 million has been spent in the last five years eradicating the boll weevil from Mississippi.
Swayze says, “If the eradication maintenance program doesn't pass, we'll go back to the old days of individual spraying. I don't think that compared to what this maintenance program is going to cost anybody will be able to afford to spray for boll weevils like we once did.”