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Boll weevil battle faces hard road

Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation President and CEO Lindy Patton says the eradication program is making great progress in some real tough areas, but must work with limited resources now.

The Texas Legislature made deep cuts this year. The Legislature, which only meets in odd years, came up with $29 million for the weevil work the previous legislative session, but only $15 million this time around. That’s a 48% cut in state funds for this new biennium.

Patton says TBWEF had expected cuts during these tight budgetary times, and is just grateful the program received as much funding as it did, with state Sen. Robert Duncan of Lubbock being instrumental in obtaining that support.

Key Points

Boll weevil eradication work is still facing some tough battlefields.

Limited funding will be aimed at getting the most eradication results.

Finding all the cotton scattered about Texas is a big challenge this year.

Some parts of Texas are just in the early years of the program, and eradication work costs more at the startup.

“State and federal partnerships are crucial to that,” Patton says. “There’s no way farmers could fund it all in early years.”

East Texas and especially South Texas need help in the weevil war.

The drastic funding cuts are going to make it tough, Patton says, but the program has come so far it must forge ahead to eliminate the weevil from Texas and the U.S.

Making an impact

Patton says the program must focus on the Lower Rio Grande Valley along the Mexican border and Texas’ Blacklands region, as well as the Winter Garden and Coastal Bend areas, too.

“Sometimes it takes all of the [farmer] assessment just to service the debt there,” Patton notes.

The Northern Black-lands was the last zone in the U.S. to come into the weevil eradication program.

The U.S. and Mexico border in South Texas is an unstable — and even dangerous —region, making it much more difficult for cotton growers and officials in Texas and Mexico to operate the weevil program.“It’s a very tough situation,” Patton says.

Larry Smith, TBWEF program director, says that besides the crime, the infrastructure anywhere near the Mexican border is a different world. For example, you might spot an old, dilapidated flat trailer hauling bulk cottonseed — perhaps to feed cattle — but if that seed falls off the trailer, and rains follow, the cottonseed will sprout alongside the road. When that happens, program coordinators must deal with such random cotton that can easily host weevils.

Smith emphasizes it also is extremely important that harvest equipment be cleaned, such as custom-harvest machinery, before getting on the highways. Contaminated equipment could easily give hitchhiking weevils a free ride from the Lower Rio Grande Valley back to the central and northern zones of Texas, where weevils could re-infest clean areas.

“Those moving equipment north should contact the Texas Department of Agriculture to get a phyto-sanitary certificate verifying the equipment is clean,” Smith says.

Dramatic strides

The TBWEF continues making major progress, even in tough areas, through aggressive work.

For example, the Southern Blacklands region caught 8,025 weevils in traps for 2010. By the Fourth of July this year, only 19 weevils had been caught there for the season.

The South Texas Winter Garden zone caught a whopping 54,626 weevils in 2010. Only 100 had been trapped by July this year.

All together, the TBWEF covers 20 zones; 16 zones are in Texas, and the foundation contracts with New Mexico to handle the remaining four zones.

Where’s the cotton?

This year, record cotton prices and historic drought combined to really cloud the eradication picture.

“One of our biggest challenges now is finding all the cotton; with the high price of cotton, a whole lot of acres were planted to cotton that had never been in cotton before,” Patton notes.

USDA reports 7.1 million acres of cotton was planted in Texas this year. Patton suspects in actual land acres, not row acres, the figure would be more than 7.5 million acres.

Some estimates say as much as 4 million acres of cotton were then abandoned (a record) due to the worst Texas drought year in 116 years of weather records.

Meanwhile, some first-time counties went from virtually zero acres to 15,000 cotton acres in a year.

“If there’s cotton out there that will host boll weevils and we don’t know about it, that could be bad,” Patton says. “We’ve got to find it — and right now.”

He says he greatly appreciates the assistance from the USDA Farm Service Agency offices toward pinpointing the new cotton acreage in Texas.

“In addition, this year the cotton was planted at a lot of times — so it’s really scattered out in growth stages,” Patton adds. “One place in South Texas already was picking cotton when some dormant [cotton] seed emerged after a rain in July.”

Exceptional drought has persisted so long and has been so devastating on the Rolling Plains and High Plains that farmers and entire communities are deeply depressed and frustrated, Patton laments.

Frustrations galore

While some farmers will be helped by their crop insurance checks, the loss of millions of acres of cotton still has an incredible impact on gins, warehouses, seed mills, trucking and custom harvesting. The loss of the crop in cotton-dependent communities and its effect on their economies likely will be incalculable.

Even farmers with insurance checks, who normally receive a progression of payments (like pools) for a real crop, will have to hang on to the insurance money a long time before another cotton crop and harvest opportunity in 2012. “This year is frustrating for sure,” Patton says. “But we’ve got to continue our work.”


HOW BIG WAS IT? Everyone knows everything is bigger in Texas, but hopefully, boll weevils haven’t grown as fat as the one in the top of the green boll weevil trap Catherine Morris keeps on her desk. She is producer relations associate for the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation in Abilene. Lindy Patton, TBWEF president and CEO, will be glad when he sees the last weevil in Texas — big or small.

This article published in the September, 2011 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.