A combination of extremely good people and a bit of good luck kept the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Program on schedule in the wake of the World Trade Center tragedy.

“Employees persevered under extremely demanding conditions,” said Charles Allen, program director of the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc.

“We have good people,” Allen said. “That's why we got the job done.”

Allen said many employees, pilots as well as ground crew, put in a lot of extra hours to catch up with spray schedules following grounding of all civilian aircraft in the wake of the terrorist attack.

“Folks were burning the candle at both ends,” he said. “After the pilots were through, other employees worked long hours to keep up with paperwork. Our people showed a lot of character when put to the test.”

Allen said luck played a key role as well. “In the diapause zones, including the Lubbock and Plainview areas, we routinely spray on Mondays,” he said. “We got about one-third the acreage in that area covered on Monday and had sprayed a little on Tuesday before we were shut down.

“We got back in the air only for about 30 minutes to an hour Thursday and got going again on Friday. We worked hard Saturday and Sunday to get caught up.”

Planes were grounded again on Monday but were back in the air Tuesday.

“We got over most of the acreage and don't think we lost much time. We sprayed everything in the Rolling Plains and got nearly all the acreage in the Lubbock and Plainview area. Overall, we completed about 95 percent of scheduled applications, so we're not behind much at all.”

Allen said favorable weather all week also aided spray schedules.

“We made it, we got through it and hardly missed a step,” Allen said.

Aerial applicators had to undergo an FBI background check to get back in the air.

“We could have been closed down for a month or more,” Allen said. “We can take a week's delay without much inconvenience. Two weeks would be hard to make up. But the potential existed to shut down applicators until December. I'm glad that did not happen.”

But Allen said even when a long delay seemed possible, folks “kept things in perspective. We understood the need for caution.”

Bill Massey, assistant director of the Oklahoma Boll Weevil Eradication Organization, says aerial applicators were grounded for two to three days following the attack but were able to catch up by flying that Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning.

“We only had about 3,000 to 4,000 acres to spray and we were done by noon on Sunday,” he said.

“We check weevil traps on a cycle that ends Sunday night, so we'll have higher numbers again this week. “We were grounded again Monday, Sept. 25 but expected to get back in within a day or two.”

Massey said if planes were grounded for long periods, “we would get in with highboy sprayers to take care of the worst fields. But for now, we're pretty much caught up.”

Spray activity has been down considerable from last year in Oklahoma. “Weevils numbers are down 95 percent to 98 percent from last year,” Massey said. “We've sprayed 223,000 acres, about equivalent to once across the entire Oklahoma crop. Last year, we sprayed a total of 889,000 acres.”

rsmith@primediabusiness.com