Local Farm Service Agency offices began mailing ballots today for the continuation of the boll weevil eradication referendum to growers in Humphreys, Issaquena and Sharkey counties, and the Delta portion of Yazoo County.

Cotton producers have until July 19 to cast their thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote for the eradication program’s 10-year maintenance program. All votes cast will be counted July 25.

This time around the referendum being put before cotton growers in eradication Region 2 will provide cotton growers with the choice between a 10-year boll weevil eradication maintenance program, and no program at all.

If the measure passes, growers in the region will pay a maximum fee of $12 per acre each year. If it doesn’t pass, entomologists are predicting the costs to growers will likely surpass that figure.

Farrell Boyd, director of the Southeast Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, says he expects the amount of spraying required will drop off drastically, and trapping will likely be reduced significantly after the 2003 crop year. If that happens, he says, grower assessments for the maintenance program could decrease to as little as $5 per acre per year.

To pass the referendum, at least 50 percent of all eligible growers and landowners must vote, and of that 50 percent that vote, 66.67 percent must vote in favor. Eligible to vote are all producers in the region who grew cotton in 2001, including any landowners that had a share or equity in the crop. In addition, each entity, or partner, in a farm is entitled to one vote.

Region 2, according to Boyd, has seen an almost 94 percent reduction in the number of boll weevils trapped per acre since 1999. In fact, almost 52 percent of the cotton fields in Region 2 captured zero boll weevils in 2001.

“One of the most significant things that has happened in the world of entomology is the fact that the annual Mississippi cotton insect loss estimate reports a zero loss of cotton yield to the boll weevil, beginning in 2000, and continuing in 2001,” Boyd says.

According to Aubrey Harris, a program advisor and entomologist at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, Miss., if the maintenance program is voted out, boll weevil populations in the area could return to pre-eradication numbers within three years. And with favorable weather conditions, he says, weevil populations could increase to pre-eradication levels even sooner.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com