Several factors contribute to the recent increase in Texas cotton production, including improved management, better varieties and technology. And a big part of that production success has been boll weevil eradication, says Larry Smith, with the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc.

Smith provided a program update at the Blackland Income Growth (B.I.G.) Conference in Waco.

“As boll weevils are being reduced to below economic damage levels in all areas of the state, Texas cotton producers have set all-time production records in three of the last six years,” Smith said.

In 2009, the foundation carried out boll weevil eradication activities in all Texas and eastern New Mexico cotton fields on a total of 5,410,346 certified cotton acres. He said cotton acreage may vary from certified acres from FSA and mapped acres with the Foundation. “Some of our zones may map uncertified acres with cotton or there may be a difference between land acres and row acres."

“For the year, every zone reported either no weevil captures or reductions in boll weevil captures compared to 2008,” Smith said.

Four New Mexico and 11 west Texas zones are approaching program completion. In addition, the Northern Blacklands (NBL) and Upper Coastal Bend (UCB) zones reported solid progress in 2009.

“We started this program with large numbers of weevils caught per trap,” Smith said. “We’ve brought those numbers down tremendously.”

The program has made considerable progress in recent years. “In 2008 we caught approximately 2 million weevils in Texas. In 2009, we caught slightly over 300,000 across the state.”

He said the Northern Blacklands Zone, the last area to enter the program, caught only 174 weevils last year. The Southern Blacklands trapped 30,636 weevils in 2009, still a fairly high number, but significantly lower than the 142,918 trapped in 2008.

Smith said the north and western zones caught only 206 weevils last year from more than 4.7 million acres of cotton. Just 56,650 acres in those zones were treated in 2009. In the eastern half of the Texas cotton production area the program had 684,707 acres of cotton in 2009 and trapped 304,736 weevils. That’s down from 1.93 million the year before, Smith said.

The program treated almost 2 million acres (cumulative applications throughout the season) compared to 3.95 million in 2008. “Weevil numbers are down 79 percent in the two Blacklands zones from 2008.”

The Northern Blacklands Zone planted 43,746 acres of cotton in 2009 and placed 8,517 traps. “We’ve had a 99.99 percent reduction rate since the program started,” Smith said. “We like to see a 90 percent reduction every year.”

The highest number of weevils trapped in one Northern Blacklands Zone field in 2009 was nine. Highest in 2008 was 267 from one field. “Trap number averages are almost not measureable,” Smith said. “We’ve brought weevils numbers down considerably the last two years. Things look really good.”

Things are not that good in the Southern Blacklands Zone, which has been in the program much longer than the Northern Blacklands Zone. “We still have concerns here,” Smith said. “The numbers are down dramatically, but we still have some troublesome pockets.”

He said efforts in 2010 will focus on those hot spots, including the Brazos Bottoms. “We were very aggressive in 2009 versus 2008,” he said. “That’s why numbers have come down. Trap counts were fairly high in 2008 and we saw a significant drop last year.”

He said the highest field count in the Southern Blacklands Zone in 2009 was 1,110 weevils. Hostable acreage after harvest has been an issue. A rainy fall delayed harvest. “We still had a lot of hostable acreage by Oct. 30."

“Even though we have not lowered the weevil numbers in the Southern Blackland Zone as much as in the Northern Blacklands, we have made a tremendous impact on yield,” Smith said.

“In 2001, boll weevil eradication began in the Southern Blackland Zone with a diapause program to diminish overwintering weevils and reduce emerging populations the following year. Full program operations started in 2002.

“According to the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service (TASS), yields from 1996 to 2001, prior to boll weevil eradication, averaged 471 pounds per acre. Since then, yields have been climbing. In fact, from 2002 to 2007 zone yields averaged 706 pounds per acre, a 236-pound increase. These recent record-setting cotton yields would not have been possible with the boll weevil and provide convincing evidence that boll weevil eradication is contributing to producer competitiveness through increased yields.”

The bottom line shows the advantage.

“Does added productivity offset the cost of the program? TASS data for the last 6 years show average cotton prices at $0.53 per pound. With yield increases of 236 pounds per acre, growers in the Southern Blackland Zone are benefiting from more than $125 per acre per year in added profit.

“In addition to profitability increases, treatments for boll weevil are being reduced. Before the boll weevil eradication program, Southern Blackland Zone growers sprayed five times or more a year for boll weevil. At current costs, growers could easily spend more than $50 per acre for those treatments. These treatment savings combined with yield increases net Southern Blackland Zone producers more than $175 per acre annually in boll weevil eradication benefits.”

Volunteer cotton also creates problems across the state, Smith said. Cotton fields rotated into corn may have pockets of volunteer cotton where modules were placed the year before. Volunteer cotton also emerges in corn and other rotation crop fields.

Smith said last year the program trapped fields that were actively growing cotton as well as fields that were in cotton the year before to pick up weevils in volunteer cotton plants. He said weevils may be moving out of the volunteer cotton into other fields in season. “That’s why we’re trapping the previous crop.”

He said the program should make even more progress this year.

“In 2010, program operations in South Texas/Winter Garden, Upper Coastal Bend, Northern Blacklands, and Southern Blacklands will concentrate on identification, trapping and treatment of all cotton (including volunteer cotton in other crops and non-crop areas) and working with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) to achieve early, thorough stalk destruction,” Smith said.

The hard winter may play a role as well. Smith said the unusually cold weather will help lower weevil numbers even more. “This will be the first time in six years that some areas have had a killing freeze."

“Our main goal now is to get the program finished and get out of the grower’s way.”

email: rsmith@farmpress.com