Cotton farmers in the recently activated North Blacklands Boll Weevil Eradication Zone have a ways to go, but a year into the program prospects look bleak for weevils.

“So far, I’m extremely pleased,” says Ellis County farmer Steven Beakley, the zone’s elected representative to Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation Inc.

“This year yields were down because of the drought, but we made a better crop than we would have without the program.”

Glen Moore, Extension entomologist at Waxahachie, Texas, says boll weevil trap catches this fall “are a fraction of what they were last year.”

Moore says Foundation numbers indicate a significant downward trend compared to last year, especially in late summer and fall. Weevil numbers from 22,775 traps checked Oct. 1, 2005, showed an average of 35.24 weevils per trap. In 2006 that average dropped to 0.10. By Oct.29, 2006, weevil numbers averaged just 0.027, compared to 1.95 in 2005. The previous week, Oct. 22, shows a more significant drop in weevil numbers. Traps caught an average of 11.47 weevils in 2005 and only 0.06 this year.

From July 23, through Oct.29, catches in 2006 all fell below last year’s average and compared to the weeks of highest concentrations in 2005, 2006 numbers showed significant reductions.

“We’ve heard some talk about the assessment costs,” Beakley says, “but considering that we only had to spray Roundup over the top for weed control and then made just one insecticide application on about 40 acres for spider mites, the $13 assessment fee was a good investment. We had no flares from other pests. If the crop had been late, as usual, we could have had some beet armyworm damage.”

“We had about five fields of non Bt cotton in the county that had some beet armyworm problems,” Moore says. “We sprayed for those and that’s about all we had to do.”

Beakley says it was a fairly inexpensive crop to make. “This was a good year to make a cheap cotton crop. If we had not been in the eradication program I’m confident we would have sprayed more for weevils.”

The North Blacklands Zone, the last area in Texas to initiate eradication, includes more than 96,000 acres of cotton. The zone began efforts last fall with diapause treatments. “That helped a lot,” Moore says, “But we still had a lot of weevils in the spring. They sprayed some fields 12 or 13 times.”

“If we had not had the eradication program this year we probably would have abandoned a lot of our cotton,” says Steve Patman, who farms near Avalon, also in Ellis County. He says the combination of severe drought and weevil pressure would have convinced some farmers to let the cotton go. “Weevils would have eaten us up. They sprayed some of my fields 13 times this year.”

Patman says even with drought, he made more cotton because of the program. “We had enough boll count early to make a bale and three-quarters,” he says. “Some fields may have made 2 bales. But boll size was about one-third normal and some bolls in the top were so small they just went through the stripper. We still made 485 pounds per acre. Compared to other crops, we did OK but I’d like to see 2 bales per acre.

“I’m pleased with the program and I think it will make us some money. If we had gotten rain in July we would have made a good crop.”

Patman would like to see BWEP officials initiate weevil spray a little sooner next year. “I think they started a little late in 2006,” he says. “Our cotton can change a lot in four or five days. I think starting 10 to 12 days earlier would have been ideal, but I also understand that this is the first year for our area.”

Insect pressure posed no difficulty for Patman in 2006. “We sprayed only one time, early for thrips and fleahoppers. We made some border treatments for aphids, around cornfields, along ditch banks and pastures.”

Scott Averhoff and his wife Arlene, who farm just south of Waxahachie, planted cotton this year for the first time since 1991.

“The first year with in-season boll weevil eradication worked well,” Scott says. “We have not had the side problems that other areas have experienced in early years.”

They planted 520 acres of cotton and sprayed only 40 for mites.

“I think the boll weevil program had a lot to do with low insect pressure,” Arlene says. “The program sprayed about every two weeks.”

They also planted all Bt cotton except for refuge areas.

email: rsmith@farmpress.com