The rules have changed.

Cotton growers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley who want an extension of their annual plowdown deadline have new regulations to abide by, according to state officials.

“State law requires that Valley cotton growers destroy their cotton stalks by Sept. 1, and that hasn’t changed,” said Jose Sanchez, regional director of the Texas Department of Agriculture in San Juan.

“What has changed,” he said, “is that they need to make their request for an extension ten days before Sept. 1 if their fields have not been harvested. If their cotton fields have been harvested, they can make their request for an extension at any time before Sept. 1.”

In the past, growers could make their request to the agriculture department the day before the deadline regardless of harvest. But not anymore, said Sanchez.

“The state’s law regulating cotton stalk destruction was changed by the state legislature to improve and expedite the already successful boll weevil eradication program in Texas,” he said.

The laws are meant to eliminate overwintering sites where boll weevils feed and reproduce, said LeeRoy Rock, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service integrated cotton pest management entomologist in Weslaco.

“Without a successful and complete plowdown effort by cotton growers, those weevils that overwinter in leftover stalks increase dramatically in numbers and pounce on the next year’s cotton with a vengeance,” he said. “Managing those large populations can be very expensive for growers in insecticide costs and decreased harvests.”

Texas legislators also made changes in state law to adjust the penalties on non-compliant and undestroyed cotton crops, and to change the penalty from a fine to a fee.

“Now, instead of the fines paid by producers going into the state treasury, that money is assessed as a fee that will be used directly toward weevil eradication efforts,” Sanchez said.

Rock said the new laws are designed to help, not penalize, growers.

“It’s for the common and agreed-upon good of everybody,” Rock said. “In effect, these changes will protect our state’s cotton industry from devastating losses from boll weevils.”

The fee for cotton stalk destruction violations in the Rio Grande Valley is $5 per acre per week for cotton fields that are non-compliant or not destroyed by the Sept. 1 deadline, Sanchez said.

“The proposed fee would increase to $7.50 per acre per week after the fifth week of non-compliance,” he said.

For more information, contact the TDA office in San Juan at 956-787-8866, or visit the TDA Web site.