Steven Beakley, board member for the North Blacklands Boll Weevil Eradication Zone, says he wouldn't have made anywhere near the 575 pound per acre yield produced in 2008 had it not been for boll weevil eradication.

“We made a late crop that would not have been possible without eradication,” Beakley said from Ellis County, Texas, where he farms with his father Bob.

“It's just amazing what the program did for the crop around here.

“Without it we would have struggled to get 400 pounds per acre. We had no rain until August.”

He recalls other years, before eradication, with weather patterns similar to this year. “From 1996 to 1998 we saw a lot of 200, 300, maybe some 400 pound per acre cotton yields under conditions similar to these.

“Our entire crop was on the top,” Beakley said. “We had a little bit of bottomland that set early and made some low position cotton. But the fields on hilly land made just a top crop.”

The Northern Blacklands zone is in the third full year of eradication and Beakley says progress has been astounding. “We caught less than 5,000 weevils all year.”

Average count for 2008 measured only .014 weevils were per trap inspection, compared to 11.47 in 2005. The 4,753 weevil catch this year in the zone represents a significant drop from 2005 with 346,000 captured. Numbers were still fairly high, 320,000, in 2006.

“That's a reduction of 99.9 percent,” Beakley said.

Weekly capture averages also tell a positive story. During the week with the highest weevil average in 2005, more than 35 weevils were captured per trap. In 2008, the peak was less than .06.

“We sprayed very little in this area in 2008,” Beakley said. “A lot of fields near us were never treated.”

He said farmers are making more cotton than they were before eradication. “That's the only thing keeping cotton somewhat competitive with other commodities, even with depressed prices. We're making up for some price differential with better yield.”

Beakley, who farms on his own and also in partnership with his father on some acreage, said all their acreage is dryland production and includes wheat, corn, cotton and soybeans with sunflowers planned for 2008.

This year will mark his 17th crop.

He's served on the Boll Weevil Eradication Board for the past three years and will be up for re-election in January, when the program is up for referendum to continue.

“I think support will be good,' he said, “following a year like this.”

He said problems have been few and relatively minor. “We always run into a few labor problems since we have to compete with an urban labor market. But we've had a good program. The Foundation is doing a good job.

Beakley said serving on the board takes time from his farm responsibilities but is worth the effort.

“I am passionate about boll weevil eradication,” he said. “It's worth my time to support this effort.”

He encourages qualified voters to support the program again and offers a few points to ponder:

  • “Make sure your neighbors and landlords know what is at stake if a majority votes ‘no.’”

  • Program activities in the zone will cease. Traps will not be placed or checked, and fields will not be sprayed should re-infestation occur.

  • With no program in place, the zone will remain under state quarantine. The NBL would be the only cotton production area in the United States not involved in eradication. Re-establishing a program would be difficult and costly.

  • The zone's debt will still need to be repaid. An assessment will be made each year until the debt is satisfied.

  • To date, the zone has received more than $7.6 million in state and federal cost-share assistance. Without an active eradication program, the NBL would not be eligible for such funds.

Beakley said basic information for the referendum includes:

  • Cotton producers in the NBL zone are eligible to vote in January on whether to continue the eradication effort in the zone.

  • A simple majority is required to continue the program.

  • The assessment for the zone cannot exceed the maximum annual assessment approved in the original referendum.

  • Producers will elect a cotton grower to represent the zone on the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation Board of Directors.

  • Ballots will be sent out Jan. 6, 2009, to all cotton growers and landowners who planted cotton in 2008. In order to be counted, those ballots must be signed and returned to the Texas Department of Agriculture, postmarked no later than Jan. 21, 2009, to be counted. Producers who planted cotton in 2008 who do not receive a ballot should call TDA at (512) 463-3285.