Missouri Bootheel cotton growers have approved a boll weevil eradication program on their third try.

Of the ballots counted on Nov. 29, 74.2 percent were in favor of eradication, easily surpassing the two-thirds majority required. The referendum also passed before a Dec. 1, 2000, deadline, making the five-county region eligible for a portion of $59.4 million in additional funding approved by Congress in the fiscal 2001 agricultural spending bill.

Boll weevil eradication programs had already decided to spend a large portion of the funding - $20 million - in Mississippi, to pay for cost overruns experienced in Region 3 (the central hill area).

The remaining $39 million is to be distributed on a pro rata basis among the states that had passed eradication by Dec. 1. Missouri's share, $2.28 million, had already been applied toward the state's eradication budget and, therefore, was reflected in the grower assessment approved in the November referendum. According to the ballot, farmers will be assessed no more than $10 per acre the first year and $12.50 per acre for the remaining six years of the seven-year program.

The state is also seeking additional state funds for eradication.

A total of 2,013 votes were cast in the referendum, with 1,494 voting in favor and 519 voting no. By county, unofficial results in favor of the referendum were: New Madrid, 72.5 percent; Pemiscot, 60.4 percent; Scott, 89.2 percent; Stoddard , 92,8 percent; and Dunklin, 77 percent. Dunklin is the largest cotton growing county in the state.

A referendum in August failed to pass with slightly more than 60 percent of those casting ballots voting in the favor of the program. In the first referendum, 55 percent of southeast Missouri cotton producers were in favor of boll weevil eradication. The Bootheel program is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2001.