Rolling Plains growers can look forward to weevil-free cotton farming, and its benefits, now that the Rolling Plains Central Eradication Zone has been declared functionally eradicated.

Functional eradication means trap catches for the year average fewer than one weevil per week for every 1,000 traps inspected and no evidence of reproducing boll weevil populations was found for the growing season.

Some weevils are still being caught in portions of the zone near newer eradication zones, said Charles Allen, program director for the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation. But those zones are closing in on functional eradication, and the RPC could quickly follow the pattern set by the Southern Rolling Plains zone, which was declared functionally eradicated in September 2000.

No weevils were caught in the Southern Rolling Plains in 2001, and as a result, none of the acreage had to be treated for boll weevils, Allen said.

Speaking to cotton producers who gathered at the annual Rolling Plains Cotton Growers meeting, Texas state Sen. Robert Duncan, who has been instrumental in obtaining state cost-share funding for the program, noted the difficulties the program has faced since its inception. A legal challenge briefly shut the program down in 1997, coinciding with the recent drought and low cotton prices.

“You stuck with it,” he said. “Whenever cotton prices do come back, you're going to reap the benefit of it, and you're going to be happy you did.”

Duncan, who now represents Stonewall, Haskell, Jones, Nolan, Fisher, Mitchell, Scurry counties, commended the growers for their involvement.

“This is a unified effort, a united spirit, so to speak, of production agriculture, communities, and everybody involved,” he said. “It takes a lot to vote to support a program like this where it's going to cost you a lot of money. And you have to trust the people who are involved in this, and then you have to do your part.”

U.S. Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, reminisced about the plans RPCG made to deal with boll weevil when he was executive director for the organization in 1965.

“It just took us 37 years to get from where we needed to be to where we are today,” Stenholm, who is from Abilene, said.

Noting that growers would be voting whether to continue eradication, Stenholm urged them to vote to retain the program.

“I hope that everyone here will spread the word on this election coming up,” Stenholm said. “The maintenance of the program, the fact that we owe the debt — it is certainly in our best interest to vote, not just 80 percent, but we ought to shoot for 90 percent support in the election, to continue the program, to continue to be part of the statewide effort.”

Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, who made the declaration at the RPCG meeting, said that cotton brings a $1.5 billion cash into the Texas economy.

“Were we not fighting the boll weevil to a standstill, you run the risk of losing 30 percent of that money, which is $500 million, more or less,” she said.