The possibility of a quarantine on cotton produced in five north Delta counties motivated growers to continue in the regionwide boll weevil eradication program by 89 percent, the largest percentage recorded on a Mississippi referendum of this kind.
Farm Service Agency offices tallied the results Oct. 17 of the third referendum for Leflore, Quitman, Sunflower, Tunica and west Tallahatchie counties this year. While the previous two votes had a majority of growers supporting the program, the referendums failed to received the required 66.667 percent for passage. A vote in June yielded a 55 percent vote and in August, the percentage increased to 65.95 percent.
“If a quarantine had been imposed, growers would have faced a much more restrictive situation,” said Will McCarty, cotton specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “A quarantine would have required basically the same effort as the eradication program plus the additional cost of a quarantine.”
After the second referendum failed, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce released plans to impose a quarantine on the region's cotton. All cotton produced in the region would have been required to be ginned within region boundaries. Cottonseed and equipment to be moved from the region would have had to be fumigated.
“Most growers realize the benefits of the boll weevil eradication program. State cotton yields have been creeping up steadily since the program started in Mississippi in 1997,” McCarty said. “Even after last year's devastating harvest weather, growers were able to harvest above the five-year average. Boll weevil management also has played a role in this year's near-record harvest.”
To take part in the eradication program, growers agreed to annual assessments of not more than $12 per acre. Program managers expect actual assessments to be between $8 and $10 per acre for the next couple of years, then drop even lower to $6 to $8 per acre.
The current eradication program started in Mississippi's eastern counties in 1997 and progressed annually westward. The north Delta regions voted to join the five-year program in 1999.
Linda Breazeale writes for MSU Ag Communications.