COTTON FARMERS in the Central Rolling Plains Boll Weevil Eradication Zone could achieve a significant milestone as early as this time next year, says Texas Extension entomologist Emory Boring.

The combination of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program and a hot, dry summer reduced weevil numbers to the point that "by next year, we should be close to our goal of eradication," Boring said.

Next year will be critical. "Insecticide applications will be much reduced and areas of infestation will be spotted," Boring said.

"Most insecticides will be applied from mid-June through mid-July and again from mid-August through September. Trapping will probably be at the same rate as this year. By the end of 2001, the Rolling Plains Central Program will be near the stated goal of boll weevil eradication."

Efforts in other zones will help, Boring said.

"In the Northern Rolling Plains, from Hardeman and Foard counties east through Wilbarger, Wichita, Archer and Clay, boll weevil numbers have declined to low levels," he said.

The decline has allowed Boll Weevil Eradication to treat at lower threshold numbers, and that, in addition to severe drought, further reduced boll weevil survival rates.

"With low thresholds, we'll get to eradication quickly," he told a group of farmers recently at a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station field day at Munday.

"Most of the irrigated acreage is limited to parts of Hardeman and Wilbarger counties," Boring said. "Irrigated acreage attracts more weevils."

Boring said good isolation to the east and boll weevil programs operating in Oklahoma and in the Rolling Plains Central limit migration from the north or south into these counties.

He also said 56,000 acres added to the western part of the Northern Rolling Plains Eradication Zone (approved by growers and landowners this past May) has helped "protect against weevils coming from the High Plains into the Rolling Plains.

"This additional acreage establishes a well-defined boundary and better isolation for the western part of the Northern Rolling Plains Zone and limits migration into the Northwest part of the Rolling Plains Central."

Those 56,000 acres represent farms below the Caprock Escarpment in Motley, Dickens, Kent, Brisco, Garza and Crosby counties. Diapause controls began on this acreage in early September.

Boring encourages farmers to continue cooperating with Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc., officials in wiping out this pest.

"Next year, when you begin to plant cotton, make certain all the fields are trapped," he said. "That's the best chance you have to control weevils before they lay eggs. If fields are not being trapped by the time cotton reaches the fourth leaf, contact the eradication program unit in your area. It is extremely important that insecticides be applied where overwintered boll weevils move into young cotton.

"The program works much better when everyone cooperates to achieve the ultimate goal."

Boring also discussed other changes in Rolling Plains cotton production.

"We're looking at a lot of different cotton varieties, including some full-season, picker-types," he said.

Extended season may mean extended pest control or different pests than some farmers are accustomed to, such as the cotton leafperforator.

"We're not picking up lygus yet," he said, "but you need to watch for it."

Planting date and plant populations affect pest control strategies, too. And weather may dictate whether a farmer can justify protecting a dryland crop or not.

"That is an individual and an economic decision," Boring said. "In some cases it's best to conserve everything."

Boring said Bt cotton showed some resilience against beet armyworm infestations throughout the Rolling Plains this summer. "We had to spray very little Bt cotton for beets," he said, "and we had some heavy egg lays. The Bt varieties pretty much controlled them. We had to spray some dryland cotton for beets but did not get get an increase in yield."