HAMBURG, Ark. – Now in the sixth year of boll weevil eradication, southeast Arkansas cotton farmers are seeing the program’s benefits.

"Ashley County has entered into the first year of the maintenance phase as have the rest of the cotton farmers in southeast Arkansas," says Kenneth Williams, Ashley County Extension agent.

Farmers bit the bullet when entering the program paying $35 an acre to control the boll weevil problem. Now, in the maintenance phase, the price has dropped to $12 an acre. In the future, the maintenance fee will drop even further as the eradication program moves the boll weevil farther south toward Mexico.

"Farmers are pretty pleased with the weevil control," Williams says. "There’re a few hot spots that they're cleaning up. We'll always have to guard against re-infestation (but) I've not seen a boll weevil in a field in four years. I never thought I'd say that."

The Extension agent says when eliminating one pest, there always seems to be another to take its place. Stink bugs have emerged as a problem, but stink bugs are easier to control than boll weevils, he says - and stinkbugs are not as serious a threat to yields.

Meanwhile, the county's 65 to 70 commercial cotton farmers – having planted some 50,000 acres thanks to dry weather early in the season - are off to a reasonably good start for the year, according to Williams.

Nearly all of Ashley County’s cotton is planted in genetically-improved varieties that tolerate Roundup herbicide. Most farmers made their first application of Roundup before rains hit but need to make a second application to manage the weeds that weren't controlled the first time around.

Williams says Deltapine DP 555BG/RR and Stoneville ST 5599BR have emerged this year as the dominant cotton varieties. Both are extremely high yielding and are tolerant to Roundup. They also provide control of bollworm and budworm pests.

"The DP555BG/RR is known for not having a strong early growth, and it's showing that now."

Williams says the variety typically takes off later in the season and farmers often have to use liberal applications of growth regulators to keep it from growing too large.

The county's cotton farmers will have a chance later in the season to see the University of Arkansas's cotton variety demonstrations. Williams says the university is comparing Bollgard and Roundup Ready varieties in one demonstration and Roundup Ready varieties alone in another.

He also has a demonstration of three varieties using the newest generation of Bollgard technology, called Bollgard II, which is supposed to give better control of worm pests.

"We want to see if it does what it's advertised to do and yields as well."

Williams says the county's cotton farmers are anxious to repeat last year's success.

"We had record yields last year of about 1,150 pounds - 150 above the previous record. That's what everyone wants to do this year. We're off to a good enough start to do that if the weather cooperates."

Lamar James is a writer for the University of Arkansas.

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com