LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas boll weevil eradication class-action lawsuit has been delayed again. Brought by northeast Arkansas cotton producers who are opposed to imposed eradication assessments, the case should be wrapped up on April 2.

“There’s probably a half day of testimony and summation left in the case,” says John Rose, a Mississippi County, Ark., producer and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The case was first delayed last December as a result of attorneys having to get notice to all potential class members.

“Notices had to be sent out to everyone who had the opportunity to vote in the last referendum,” says Rose. “That took a while.”

The second and third delays were due to another court case that ran far longer than expected. Attorneys involved in the eradication suit were also working that case, which took priority.

“This latest delay – although it’s more of a continuation – is because our case went on a little longer than anticipated,” says Rose. “The judge has a full docket, so we’ll pick back up in three weeks.”

The class is now made up of approximately 50 plaintiffs. However, some 80 farmers have contributed to the legal fund for the prosecution of the class’ case.

While he hasn’t been called to testify in the case, Bill Robertson, Arkansas Extension cotton specialist, says eradication is working.

“The eradication program is really doing well, overall,” he says. “Last year, in southwest Arkansas, I believe two weevils were found. In the southeast part of the state, there was a bit of a problem areas around Pine Bluff. But that’s under control and when you get away from town to the south, things look really good.

“Look at our yields the last three years – all 800 pounds-plus. I know the weather had a lot to do with that, but eradication is a huge part of our recent success.”

Danny Kiser, who runs the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program, says he’ll be glad when the case is resolved, whatever the outcome. “We need (the contested area) in the program, but we also need to know how we’re going to proceed. We’re not in the field right now, but we need to finalize plans. It will be a relief to get a final ruling and get on down the road.”

Kiser, who isn’t among those named in the suit, was called as a witness. “There weren’t any surprises,” he says. “We knew (the class) attorneys would be asking questions on a lot of different areas.”

During testimony, Rose says the Arkansas Plant Board has spent a lot of time “explaining that it took $27 per acre around here to run the eradication program. They only charged us $8. They’re holding that up as a bargain for us.”

The judge is also looking at the difference between an assessment and a tax.

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com