However, with the boll weevil eradication zones south of them about to be declared suppressed or functionally eradicated, they're faced with the possibility of boll weevil quarantine regulations limiting movement of their crop and their equipment.

Growers have met several times this year and formed a steering committee to devise a strategy for continued operation and even expansion of cotton production in the 13 northernmost counties in the state.

Marvin Urbanczyk of White Deer, Texas, and Craig Williams of Sunray, Texas, are the co-chairs of a 12- man committee that has requested the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture to establish the 13 counties as the Panhandle Boll Weevil Eradication Zone.

Almost 25,000 acres of cotton were grown in 2003, and the group foresees acreage increasing dramatically the next few years. There are also plans to build at least one gin in the area.

Plains Cotton Growers funded a 2003 boll-weevil trapping project that was carried out by Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation and Texas Cooperative Extension to determine if any boll weevils had made their way into the area's cotton fields. No weevils were detected in the season long project.

The Panhandle Steering Committee members met in Amarillo Monday where they developed a program proposal to be submitted for approval by the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation Board at its January 2004 regular meeting.

The proposal combines trapping of every cotton field planted in the new zone with mitigation procedures if a weevil is ever caught in the area. The plan and its proposed assessment of $4 per acre will be the subject of hearings to be conducted by TDA in the new year and a referendum sometime in March or April 2004.

e-mail: haldenby@plainscotton.org