Cotton growers in portions of Craighead and Mississippi counties in northeast Arkansas will have an opportunity during the first two weeks of February to vote on extending the boll weevil eradication program to their fields.

If they approve the referendum, growers will pay a slightly lower amount for the program — $10 per acre for five years, followed by a $3-per-acre maintenance fee — because of the traditionally lower boll weevil populations and reduced habitat in the Delta region of northeast Arkansas.

Arkansas producers outside the area are paying $10 per acre over seven years. Growers in southwest Arkansas are entering their fifth and final year of eradication; growers in southeast Arkansas, their fourth year; in central Arkansas, their third year; and the remaining area of northeast Arkansas, their second year.

“From a personal standpoint, I have already seen the benefits of the program,” said Joe Burns, a producer from Rector, Ark., and chairman of the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program. “It is a moneymaker.”

Burns said growers in his area, which began eradication last August, had “their best crop in history.” “We saw a top crop for the first time in 20 years because of the spraying that began in August,” he noted.

Last fall, supporters of the program in the targeted area fell a few votes short of the percentage necessary for approval. Growers and landowners cast 61 percent of their ballots in favor of the program, but 66 percent were required for passage.

“We really have to pass a referendum for this area,” said Doug Ladner, executive director of the Arkansas Eradication Program. “If we don't, it will be bad for growers inside and out of the area. We will have to maintain containment zones on each side of the non-eradicated area.”

The area includes all of Mississippi County and that portion of Craighead County east of the St. Francis River. The Buffalo Island area is located inside Mississippi County.

Surrounding states have begun discussing a quarantine to prevent movement of weevils on equipment and cotton in and out of the area from re-infesting states that have completed or are about to complete eradication.

Burns was encouraged by the closeness of the last vote and by developments inside the referendum area.

“One of the organizations that was opposed to the program has decided to support it and is sending out letters to its members, urging them to vote in favor this time,” he said.

Ballots for the referendum are scheduled to be mailed to eligible growers and landowners at the end of January. Growers must return the ballots to their county Farm Service Agency offices by Feb. 15.

Burns said he expects the results of the balloting to be announced Feb. 18.