The LSU AgCenter is joining the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation to educate the state's cotton producers and landowners regarding an upcoming referendum on the maintenance phase of the state's five-year Boll Weevil Eradication Program.

A series of informative meetings have been scheduled in the state's major cotton-growing regions across northern and central Louisiana. (See listing below.)

In one of those meetings, producers and others met at the LSU AgCenter's Scott Research and Education Center in Winnsboro Thursday to discuss the referendum, which involves legislative funding for the program.

"The boll weevil is gone from Louisiana, and that's a great thing," said Ralph Bagwell, an LSU AgCenter entomologist. "But if we don't continue with a maintenance program, it could come back."

John Andries, head of the state Department of Agriculture's Boll Weevil Eradication Program, said eradication efforts cannot end in Louisiana once the weevil is gone.

"This (eradication efforts) must continue," Andries said. "Even though we have gotten rid of the weevil, it may come in from somewhere else. We've got to vote on this referendum, and we've got to encourage others to vote."

The original cost of the maintenance program to farmers was $10 per acre, Andries said. But because of supplemental state funding, this cost has been lowered to $6 per acre.

Louisiana Farm Bureau President Ronnie Anderson said the maintenance program is vital to the viability of the state's cotton industry and also said favorable votes in the referendum are critical.

"Louisiana cotton producers have invested too much to let the boll weevil slip back into their fields unchecked," Anderson said. "The continued success of the boll weevil eradication effort depends on the maintenance program, and its cost is well worth the investment."

Ballots for the referendum will be mailed to producers and landowners Sept. 10. They are to be returned by Sept. 24 and will be counted Sept. 30.

The remaining meetings for Northeast Louisiana will be at 6 p.m. Monday at Adger's Grocery in Gilliam, noon Monday at the Armistead Gin in Armistead, noon Tuesday at the LSU AgCenter's Northeast Research Station near St. Joseph, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the LSU AgCenter's West Carroll Parish Extension Office in Oak Grove, 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Rayville Civic Center in Rayville, 6 p.m. Thursday at the LSU AgCenter's Dean Lee Research Station near Alexandria, noon Friday at the Lake Providence Country Club in Lake Providence, 11 a.m. Sept. 2 at Farm Chemical in Monroe, 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 at the LSU AgCenter's Morehouse Parish Extension Office in Bastrop and 11 a.m. Sept. 4 at the Marksville Fire Station Marksville.

The state's Boll Weevil Eradication Program began along the Red River in 1997 and in the northeastern cotton-producing parishes in 1999.

It has led to the eradication of the boll weevil, one of the most destructive and costly insects in all of U.S. agriculture, experts say.

Denise Coolman is a writer for the LSU AgCenter.

e-mail: dcoolman@agcenter.lsu.edu