Texas

Cotton producers in the Texas Southern Blacklands will have a chance to vote again on the budget for the Boll Weevil Eradication program. Producers nixed the budget last year because many felt the assessments were too high.

According to Dr. Cliff Hoelscher, entomologist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, producers and share landlords in the Southern Blacklands Boll Weevil Eradication Zone should receive a ballot from the Texas Department of Agriculture via public mail in early March. The ballots must be postmarked and returned to TDA by March 22.

The boll weevil entered Texas more than a century ago and has cost American cotton growers about $350 million annually in lost yields and control expenditures. In Texas, the loss is estimated at $20 million.

Boll weevils feed on blooms and bolls and cause the fruit to be shed from the plant. In late season, developing larvae in bolls reduce yields and quality.

The Texas Legislature established the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation in 1993. Texas currently has about 3.5 million acres under active eradication. Cotton producers voted more than 2 million new acres into programs in 1999.

Similar eradication programs across the southern United States have led to 5 million acres of cotton to be declared "boll weevil-free."

The Blacklands zone includes a 63-county area from Austin to Waco to Texarkana to Beaumont to Houston and has about 105,000 acres of cotton. Last year, producers representing only 43% of the acreage in the Blacklands voted on the proposed budget, and it failed by 1,100 acres.

Hoelscher said he does not know if producers did not receive a ballot or were simply lax in returning it.

This year, he said, he would like to see at least 85% to 90% of the acreage represented in the vote.

There have been significant changes in the budget this year, he explained. Dryland producers will be assessed $12 per acre per year; last year's proposed budget assessed $16.50 per acre.

Dryland cotton farmers could expect a yield increase of 100 to125 pounds of lint per acre after the weevil is eliminated, Hoelscher said. Irrigated acreage would be assessed $27 per acre, the same in last year's proposed budget. With the program, producers who grow irrigated cotton can expect a yield increase of 200 to 250 pounds of lint per acre.

"The yield potential for irrigated cotton is higher," Hoelscher said. "Irrigated farmers' production costs are higher, although their additional costs are associated with pumping the water and larger general input costs. All of the rest are about the same."

Growers also can expect a significant decrease in pesticide costs. The boll weevil eradication program will pay for all boll weevil pesticides and application costs once the program is initiated, Hoelscher said. Other pests such as flea hoppers and boll worms are still the responsibility of the grower, he added.

Since the Texas Legislature last year provided $25 million to help defray the cost of eradication, about 20% of the zone's eradication costs are paid with state assistance.

Boll weevil eradication will help Texas economically and environmentally, Hoelscher said.

"Once eradication is achieved, pesticide use should go down by an estimated 80%," he said.

During the program, Hoelscher explained, pesticides are specifically targeted to fields that have exceeded economic thresholds for the pest. Both aerial and ground application will be used.

Only cotton fields are sprayed; non-crop areas are not, he said. Farmers will be notified before fields are sprayed. Additionally, in some areas--such as those near schools, churches and with pesticide sensitive residents--neighbors will be notified.

Further information is available from county Extension agents. Cotton farmers may check with their local Farm Service Agency office to see if they are on the TDA list to receive a ballot.

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