It's been a long haul, but this year Mississippi cotton producers may, for all practical purposes, finally hold funeral services for a decades-old nemesis, the boll weevil.

Thanks to a major cooperative federal and state effort, numbers for the destructive pest dropped to insignificant levels in 2006 and this year things are on track, program officials say, for Mississippi to achieve eradication status.

That could bring a significant reduction in the per-acre assessment growers have been paying to support the program.

“I'm absolutely elated — I don't know many cotton farmers who'd be in business today if it hadn't been for this program,” Benton, Miss., producer/ginner John Swayze said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation at Grenada.

“We've come a long way since this effort was launched in 1993, and cotton growers can pat themselves on the back for what has been accomplished.”

Even more cause for elation, he noted: the corporation is no longer in debt to the Farm Services Administration. “We paid off a lot of debt in 2006 and put money in the bank, and that's a great feeling.”

Although Region 3 still owes $2.7 million to the Southeastern Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Swayze said, “we're on track for that to be repaid within two years.”

For most growers, the elimination of the FSA debt should bring a substantial reduction in assessments, said Farrell Boyd, program manager.

“As we move to total eradication — I can foresee drastic reductions for areas that remain clean.”

In 2006, he said, 1,283 weevils were caught in traps over the state's cotton acres. Most of those, almost 800, were along the bluff hills in Region 3.

Through the July 4 week this year, Regions 1-A, 1-B, and 4 were weevil-free; one weevil had been caught in Region 2; and five in Region 3 (four of those along the bluff hills).

“So, we've seen a 99.2 percent reduction from 2006,” Boyd said. “Of the 60 counties with cotton acreage, 55 had no weevil catches.”

Trapping this year is continuing pretty much as in recent years, he noted, covering about 93 percent of the state's cotton acres

If Mississippi achieves eradication status this year, it will join states from Alabama eastward that are already weevil-free, Boyd said.

In the Mid-South, Missouri has achieved 96.4 percent reduction, he said, while Tennessee has reduced numbers by 37 percent and Louisiana 54 percent (no current figure was available for Arkansas).

While Tennessee and Louisiana continue to have significant catches, Mississippi will have to remain vigilant against migration across state lines and in inspection of interstate movement of cotton equipment.

“For two years in a row in the Natchez, Miss., area, we've had the weevils beat down to zero, and then in the latter part of the year they'd start migrating in and showing up in cotton hauling equipment.

Harry Fulton, Mississippi Department of Agriculture, said BWE assessments were made on 1.24 million acres of cotton in the state in 2006, with 99 percent collected.

“This year, we have only 555,115 acres in our database. Some are saying we'll end up with about 650,000 acres.