Cotton stalk destruction is a key element in the final stages of boll weevil eradication, but volunteer, herbicide tolerant and non-commercial cotton plants make the job a little tougher.

“We’ve made a lot of progress with boll weevil eradication in Texas,” says David Costrum, Texas Department of Agriculture. “But the closer we get to completion, the more important it is to work even harder.”

Costrum told participants in the Blackland Income Growth Conference in Waco that current threats to the program include moving weevils on equipment from quarantined areas into zones considered functionally eradicated. “And live stalks provide overwinter hosts for weevils,” he said.

Another potential threat could be losing the $49 million from the Texas Legislature that supports the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication foundation, money many urban legislators would like to grab for other uses. “Redistricting next session could change some rural districts into more urban ones,” he said, and put more pressure on farm program funding.

The Texas Legislature passed a bill last session that protects some boll weevil eradication funds. In the past, producers with stalk destruction violations paid an administrative penalty that went into the State General Fund, Costrum said. The 2009 legislation puts those fees into the boll weevil eradication fund.

He said some stalk destruction deadlines also changed to better represent individual zones’ planting and harvest dates. “We have 10 active eradication zones and they have different stalk destruction deadlines. Deadlines are established to allow adequate time for harvest and stalk destruction and to maintain a maximum host-free period. TBWEF submits recommendations for deadlines.” He said TDA considers average planting date, accumulation of 2,400 heat units for crop maturity, and 50 days to harvest and destroy stalks.

“Only two areas, 7.1 and 8.2, needed modifications. New dates will be effective for the 2010 growing season.

Deadline extensions are allowed under certain conditions. “Producers should submit extension requests at least 10 days prior to the destruction deadline.” Without an approved extension, failure to destroy cotton stalks could result in a fine of $5 per acre per week.

“Costrum said the 10-day request window gives growers ample time to make other arrangements for harvest in case the extension is denied. “If the field has been harvested but stalks not destroyed, extensions may be requested up to the deadline.”

Factors TDA considers in granting or denying extensions include weather that affects planting and harvest timing. “We can check weather conditions on a map,” Costrum said. TDA granted several extensions in 2009 because of a wet harvest season.

“We approved some blanket extensions and some individual requests,” he said. “The Brazos bottom had three extensions and Zone 6 had a 15-day extension.”

Once a producer destroys stalks he meets the stalk destruction requirements,” Costrum said. “But it is the producer’s responsibility to maintain the field as non-hostable. If a hostable field is found, producers are notified and have seven days to destroy regrowth.” They may be granted a grace period.

TDA may charge a hostable commercial cotton fee on stalks remaining hostable after the deadline. That fee is $5 per acre per week for the first five weeks and increases to $7.50 per acre per week after that.”

Those fees go into the TBWEF to cover eradication costs.

Non-commercial cotton is causing more problems for TDA and eradication officials, Costrum said. “We’re finding volunteer cotton in other crops, in non-crop areas and in urban settings.” The problem is exacerbated with volunteer Roundup Ready cotton in Roundup Ready corn. Volunteer cotton is showing up more often in south Texas, Costrum said.

Hunters add to the problem by feeding cottonseed to wildlife. Costrum showed slides of cotton plants emerging around deer feeders in wooded areas. “Those plants are regulated in quarantined areas,” he said.

Anyone with hostable, non-commercial cotton stalks after destruction deadlines are subject to fines. “Once TDA notifies property owners of hostable cotton they have 14 days to destroy the stalks,” Costrum said. “After 14 days, they are subject to the $5 per acre per week fine. Failure to pay results in an administrative fee."

Costrum said cotton producers and landowners interested in more information about cotton stalk destruction should check the TDA Web site, www.TexasAgriculture.gov.

email: rsmith@farmpress.com