One of the most important accomplishments for Texas cotton farmers over the past 25 years is the almost complete eradication of the boll weevil. A review of the Texas Plant Protection Conference agendas shows how the program has advanced from one of contention, legal action and a brief suspension to where it is today, with the weevil no longer an economic threat to cotton anywhere in the state except for the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
The program was established by the Texas Legislature in 1993 and began operation in 1994.But it was soon suspended following lawsuits contesting the constitutionality of the mandatory program.
The Texas Supreme Court agreed and ruled that enabling legislation was unconstitutional on April 30, 1997. “They basically said that too much authority had been granted to a private, non-profit foundation,” says Lindy Patton, president and chief executive officer, Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc.
“The legislature immediately put legislation together to address the court’s concerns, putting the Foundation under the authority of the Texas Department of Agriculture,” Patton explains. New legislation passed by the end of May, 1997, and the program was back up and running by the end of June.
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“After the program got back on track in 1997 in three areas of the state, farmers in those areas almost immediately began to see positive results,” Patton says. “Soon, farmers in other areas noticed positive economic and environmental benefits. Growers in five more zones voted to begin eradication programs in 1999, three more in 2001, one in 2002, two in 2004, and the last two in 2005.
“Now, 15 of 16 zones have been declared functionally eradicated. Boll weevil populations have been reduced by more than 90 percent in the Lower Rio Grande Valley since the program began.”
Patton says some work remains.
“We need to continue the battle and finish the job—eradicate the weevil from Texas and hopefully Mexico can push them further south.”
Boll weevil eradication was a key topic weaving through many of the annual TPPA conference agendas, with early presentations focused on chemistry, vegetative management and application strategy.
Patton says an economic impact statement compiled from reports by Dean McCorkle and Ed Smith with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service,along with additional projections from the Texas Department of Agriculture released in February, 2009, illustrates the program’s success.
“Since 1996, Texas boll weevil eradication efforts have increased revenue to the state’s cotton producers by $1.7 billion, equal to more than 9 percent of the total value of production over that period. Since 2001, the program has added 14 percent to the crop value.
During the 1994 TPPA conference, Tom Fuchs, Texas Extension IPM specialist, reported that the Southern Rolling Plains was the first of nine zones to pass the necessary referenda to begin the program. That zone started treatments in September, 1994.
“Plans call for boll weevil eradication to be completed in Texas and across the Cotton Belt by 2003,” he said. That was not to be.
“While those optimistic plans were lofty goals, none of us really understood the challenges of trying to eradicate a difficult pest like this in a sub-tropical environment like South Texas,” Patton says. “And they sure didn’t plan for the program to be shut down with legal challenges. Over the years, we’ve had to make changes based on the information we had at the time. We relied on experts in the field who sit on a Technical Advisory Committee to check and double check the science behind the program.”
An update during the 1995 conference included a harsh assessment of the first year in the Rio Grande Valley, following a crop failure. The BWEP was one of many reasons cited for the disaster. But increased acreage, cold planting temperatures, severe early season wind, erratic rainfall, aphid resistance, unusually high fruit shed, beet armyworms and whiteflies, also played significant roles. A “reduction in beneficial insect numbers due to widespread use of Malathion,” was also listed.
“Although no one can say for sure what caused the beet armyworm outbreak in the Valley, the program and its Technical Advisory Committee did their part to prevent it from happening again by trapping beet armyworms and watching for population jumps so treatment protocols could be adjusted when necessary,” says Patton.
Richard Minzenmayer, Texas Extension, Ballinger, Texas, reported at the 10thannual conference in 1998 on: “The Highs and Lows of BWEP in the Southern Rolling Plains.” … “The overall impact in the SRP in the past five years has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
As the boll weevil eradication effort migrated across the Cotton Belt, discussions focused on the impact the program has had on Texas cotton production.
“The number of big, white open bolls I see on the upper plant is what is truly remarkable to me,” said Erick Richards, Rolling Plains producer. “I can remember a time when those bolls were considered a sure loss.”
As of 2012, 15 zones in Texas have been declared functionally eradicated and have joined the ranks of other states across the Cotton Belt where the boll weevil is no longer a negative economic factor and cotton is grown more profitably.
In recent conferences, representatives of the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation have presented even more promising numbers showing that the boll weevil has either been eradicated or is no longer an economically viable pest except in a few areas in South Texas. The Lower Rio Grande Valley remains the last area in the United States with active weevil populations as the program continues to push the pest back to where it first entered the country more than 100 years ago.