As of Tuesday, only 50.94 percent of the farmers who received ballots in Region 1B and only 53.64 percent of farmers in Region 1A had returned those ballots to their county Farm Service Agency offices. At least 50 percent of the farmers must vote in each region for the referendum to be valid.

"This is a critically important vote for farmers in the Delta," said one leader. "Whether they vote for or against the maintenance program, I would hope that more growers would exercise their right to vote and return their ballots by tomorrow afternoon."

Farmers are voting on whether to authorize a 10-year maintenance program to continue the efforts begun to eradicate the boll weevil in Regions 1A and 1B in August 1999. Ballots must be postmarked or returned to county Farm Service Agency offices by the close of business tomorrow afternoon.

The referendum, which requires a 66.6 percent vote for approval, includes a maximum annual assessment of $12 per acre. But Mississippi Boll Weevil Eradication Program leaders have gone to great pains to stress that they anticipate a cost of no more than $8 per acre.

“We have to pay the same assessment as everyone else, and I can assure you we will not set the annual assessment any higher than it absolutely has to be,” said Rick Parsons, a producer and BWEP board member from Vance, Miss.

Farmers with questions about the referendum should contact Farrell Boyd, director of the Mississippi BWEP, at 601 922 3161.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com