More than 90% of cotton growers voting in the recent referendum said yes to reauthorize and refinance the boll weevil eradication program in West Tennessee.
A total of 2,178 votes, representing more than half of eligible West Tennessee cotton growers, were cast in a referendum held March 8 - 19. Ballots totaled 1,961 to 217 in favor of restructuring debt to continue the program. A two-thirds majority vote was needed to approve the measure.
"This vote represents a remarkable turnout of West Tennessee cotton producers who see the value of moving the program forward," says Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens. "The overwhelming support is a testament to the program's success in reducing grower reliance on pesticides and increasing cotton yields."
The positive vote means that the three current program areas of West Tennessee will be consolidated with one assessment rate that will refinance program debt over 10 years. Under the reauthorization and refinancing plan, growers are expected to pay an annual rate of $12.25 per acre. The assessment rate could be reduced further depending on the availability of state and federal assistance.
Program officials say that program restructuring was needed due to several factors that have increased program costs. Those factors include a delay in implementing the program in parts of West Tennessee, the migration of weevils from non-program areas in Arkansas and spraying restrictions that immediately followed Sept. 11, 2001.
The boll weevil eradication program was implemented in Southwest Tennessee beginning in 1998 and later in other portions of West Tennessee to help increase cotton yields and to reduce farmer reliance on cotton insecticides. According to program officials, on average cotton yields have increased 154 pounds per acre since the program's statewide implementation in 2000, and insecticide use for boll weevil control has been drastically reduced.
There are approximately 4,000 cotton growers in Tennessee. According to the Tennessee Agricultural Statistics Service, the state's cotton yield averaged 792 pounds of lint per acre in 2003, up 51 pounds from 2002 and a new state record. A yield record has been set for two of the last three years in Tennessee. The value of farm receipts from cotton was $179 million in 2002, making it second only to soybeans as a leading cash crop in Tennessee.