If you are a cotton grower in the hill regions of Mississippi, it's time to check your mailbox for an important envelope. No, it's not the letter from Publishers Clearing House informing you that you could be its next millionaire. It's your ballot for the boll weevil eradication referendum.

Cotton growers in regions three and four should begin to receive their ballots beginning about June 6. Producers have until June 15 to cast their thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote for the eradication program's maintenance program. All votes cast are scheduled to be tallied June 21.

This time around the referendum being put before cotton growers in eradication regions three and four will provide cotton growers with the choice between a 10-year boll weevil eradication maintenance program and no program at all.

Recently 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. However, if additional government funding is secured for the program, the grower assessment could be lowered from the $12 ceiling set by law.

According to Aubrey Harris, a program advisor and entomologist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., 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, he says, weevil populations could increase to pre-eradication levels even sooner.

In the last five years, approximately $160 million has been spent to eradicate the boll weevil from Mississippi's cotton fields.