As one problem teeters on the brink of oblivion for Texas cotton farmers another emerges over the horizon to make sure no one gets bored.

Commissioner of Agriculture Susan Combs, addressing the Plains Cotton Growers annual meeting recently, said the boll weevil, thanks to an extremely effective eradication program, is on its way out. But redistricting may wreak as much havoc on rural economies as that often cursed pest did.

Two eradication zones, The Southern Rolling Plains and the Rolling Plains Central, already have achieved functional eradication status, Combs said. “We expect to declare three other zones eradicated by next fall.”

The program has already paid dividends. “According to Texas A&M, the Winter Garden area realized a 119 pounds per acre increase from eradication efforts,” Combs said. “The program returns $8 for every dollar invested. That's a good bargain.”

Combs pledged further efforts to shore up the Texas cotton industry. “It's still the No. 1 cash crop in the state and important to our economy,” she said.

The Texas Department of Agriculture has provided $300,000 for 25 integrated pest management projects to improve insect management for cotton farmers.

“We're also working with EPA for a Section 18 exemption for Denim insecticide. We've been granted approval to use Furadan for aphid control on a percentage of the acreage, but farmers must use a certain percentage of newly registered products before they can use Furadan.”

And that potential problem looming over the horizon — redistricting — likely will cost Texas six to eight House members, Combs said. “When we lose that many incumbents who were familiar with agriculture, we have to take up the slack, become more vocal and more visible.”

She said as many as 45 new House members nationwide will be seated next year. “Most will not be familiar with agriculture and rural America's needs,” she said. “After September 11, we all realize the value of a national defense policy but that policy depends on a strong agricultural economy.

“I hope our farm bill does not reduce our ability to be competitive but enhances it.”

As the make up of state and national legislatures change, Combs said agricultural interests must increase efforts to communicate. “Phone and write letters,” she said.

rsmith@primediabusiness.com