It appears cotton growers in Arkansas' Mississippi and eastern Craighead counties will again be voting on joining boll weevil eradication efforts. Already hemmed in on all sides by eradication programs, the counties are holdouts in an area that impacts neighboring states.
Three previous eradication referendums in the counties — both located in northeast Arkansas — have failed to pass with a two-thirds vote. The main reason for those failures is "the boll weevil isn't seen as a serious economic problem by many cotton producers there," says Daryl Little, head of the Arkansas Plant Board. "Unlike the rest of the state, there just hasn't been the interest in the eradication there."
Over the past three growing seasons, eradication efforts have moved into Missouri's Bootheel and western Tennessee. Arkansas is in the second year of eradicating the pest.
"It's costing the Southeast Foundation (which runs the Missouri and Tennessee programs) and us a whole lot of money on buffer areas around Mississippi and Craighead counties. Several weeks ago, the Southeast Foundation came to us and said they'd be happy to pool resources, to run the program, let us run the program — pretty much whatever it takes to get a referendum passed. We can't continue like we're going. Millions of dollars are being spent on buffer zones and that will go on forever as long as a referendum isn't passed."
The cost to producers in the two counties would be between $50 and $56 per acre. To offset costs for the producers, the Southeast Foundation proposed a $6 million contribution while Arkansas would contribute $3.5 million.
"Farmers there are well aware that something is in the works. There have been growers there that haven't ever stopped trying to get an eradication program started. They've been involved in the latest discussions. This latest proposal — while brought by the Southeast Foundation — only came after discussions with area growers."
Little hopes the next vote will be sometime in early December.
"The people I've spoken with up there, I've begged to take this seriously and lobby hard. I can't lobby for them — people from Little Rock talking about this aren't going to have the impact folks from up there will," he says.
Passage of previous referendums has been close. Some 61 percent voted "aye" in the most recent.
"For this one, growers have to pick up that extra 6 percent that's needed to pass. This is incredibly important for not only our state but obviously for our neighbors."
The Arkansas Boll Weevil Foundation meets Oct. 23. Once options for the new referendum are settled on, Little expects to call a special Arkansas Plant Board meeting by mid-November. If approved at that level, referendum ballots will be sent out shortly thereafter.
"If this passes it's fair to say it would be the final piece of the eradication puzzle. We've got to get this done," says Little.