Efforts to rid Mississippi of the boll weevil have resulted in success, but eradication program supervisors are concerned that because the pest may be increasingly out of growers' sight, it may be off their minds.
According to updated surveys, three of the five regions still under eradication supervision still show some evidence of the pest. Statistically, two quadrants — Region 4 (northeast Miss.) and Region 2 (southern Delta) — are free of weevils, while both Region 1A (northern Delta) and Region 1B (central Delta) are more than 99 percent free.
The fifth quadrant, Region 3, and more specifically in the hilly area of the middle of the state, is considered the pest's lone holdout, with 86.7 percent fee of boll weevils.
“It's the bluff area that seems to be the most difficult with infestations,” said Ferrell Boyd, who heads the Mississippi Boll Weevil Eradication project.
But by this year's end, Boyd believes that Region 3, which encompasses about 350,000 acres, could be void of the pest.
“The main thing I hear from growers is that the weevil program worked when many thought it never would,” he said. “Many may still think it's a burden, they don't necessarily like the idea of a monitor coming onto their land — but it has been economically advantageous.”
Boyd said it's critical for farmers to keep pheromone traps upright on their property for continued monitoring.
He said communication efforts are now under way to remind farmers that while the bug may be reaching a level of insignificance in Mississippi, re-infestation could easily unfold without cautious, proper preparation.
“Once they are wiped out then you have to worry about transference of the bug from an infested field to a non-infested field,” he said.
Such occurrence can happen easily, he noted, when farmers fail to sufficiently clean farming equipment between uses in various fields. Boyd said growers should diligently wash equipment with a strong flow of water.
He said farmers could also infest fields when they use equipment borrowed or purchased from other regions still fighting the pest, such as areas in Texas.
“We are trying to hammer those two points in growers' minds now,” Boyd said. “The greatest fear is that weevils are transported from other areas into clean ones, so we are trying to educate not just farmers, but equipment salesmen, too.”
Yet another looming problem associated with the threat of the boll weevil is directly related to the program's success.
Boyd said new farmers may not appreciate how much disruption the boll weevil — which once cost Mississippi cotton farmers $21 million annually just to control — can cause.
“By and large a main problem is that you are seeing another generation of growers who, because of eradication efforts, have never seen the boll weevil and never seen its destruction,” Boyd said.