According to Danny Kiser, director of operations, Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program, “weevil populations (in the region) were low coming into the spring because we had a cold winter in 2000/2001. But numbers built during the season.”

By fall, the average number of catches per week had risen to 11.56 weevils per trap. “That’s the highest number of weevils per trap caught in Arkansas,” said Kiser. He discussed the referendum and trapping data at the 62nd annual meeting of the Agricultural Council of Arkansas in Memphis.

Evidently, the trapping data didn’t sway enough of the roughly 1,100 growers and landowners who returned referendum ballots.

Sixty-one percent of cotton growers voted for the program and 39 percent against it, failing to meet the two-thirds majority required for an eradication program. The region consists of Mississippi County and eastern Craighead and Poinsett counties.

But progress was made. In an earlier referendum, 80 percent of the growers voted against the program. Growers in the area are expected to push for another referendum in the coming months.

Kiser added that those who voted against the program “are not convinced that they’re spending as much money on weevils as the program costs. There’s a lot of disagreement about that, and it depends on what part of the area you’re farming in as to whether that’s true or not.”

Kiser also believes that growers who voted the program down are underestimating the eventual value of the program. “We find that commonly, when growers go into eradication and start to see the results, they’re really pleased.”

Kiser noted that Arkansas’ southwest eradication zone had an average trap count per week of .066 weevils in 2001. The program was initiated in the fall of 1997.

The average trap count per week for the southeast zone was .332 weevils and the central zone had an average trap count of .406 weevils. The southeast and central zones were initiated in the fall of 1999 and the fall of 2000, respectively.

In the Arkansas northeast ridge area, which began eradication in August, the program captured an average of 7.03 weevils per trap. “The average remained under four weevils until the last two weeks of the program. We expect that in the first year of a program.”

According to Kiser, the trapping data in the northeast ridge area didn’t necessarily translate into damage from boll weevils because the large populations came in after most of the crop had been made.

Declining weevil populations undoubtedly will help cotton producers save money over time, but any savings will likely fall short of offsetting depressed cotton prices. That will have to come from either the market or farmer-friendly farm policy, according to other speakers at the meeting.

“The agriculture situation is going to be closely related to the amount of money that’s out there to develop farm programs and farm policy,” said Mark Lange, vice president policy analysis and program coordinator, National Cotton Council.

With the United States now entrenched in a recession, the $73.5 billion that was once budgeted for farm programs, “is not so likely in light of the slower economy,” Lange said.

Lange pointed out that what is often blamed for low prices — large stocks — don’t appear to be the sole reason for low prices today. “Looking at the stocks-to-use ratio for corn, for example, the crop doesn’t seem to be in surplus right now. It says that low prices may not have a lot to do with fundamentals of supply and demand. It may have more to do with the strength of the dollar.”

Lange added the U.S. dollar, “is 30 percent stronger than it was five years ago. What that means is that it is cheaper for the United States to buy foreign products and it’s a lot more expensive to sell U.S. products overseas.

“If it’s going to be tougher to sell something overseas because somebody is going to have to have more of their own money to buy a dollar and then use that dollar to buy bushels or bales, it’s going to start depressing prices.

“Corn and soybeans are trading below 75 percent of where they were trading in 1995 and cotton is trading below 50 percent of where it was trading,” Lange said.

In another speech, Doddridge, Ark., cotton breeder Hal Lewis, said the cotton industry is starting to address the need for more “genetic diversity” in commercial cotton varieties. “We have a lot of talent focused on the problem and we’re starting to make some gains.”

Lewis noted that “Arkansas had good yields in 2001. Most of it will become acquainted with the government loan and much of it was discounted by as much as 10 cents (because of quality problems).”

“Farmers say that yield is all that’s important and that you don’t get paid for quality,” Lewis said. “But quality is also important. It means you get to sell your cotton every year.”

e-mail: erobinson@primediabusiness.com