BWE working for Southwest growers AGRICULTURAL HISTORIANS may look back on 2000 as a pivotal year for the boll weevil's ultimate demise in the Southwest.

Boll weevil eradication programs in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico made significant headway against cotton's most notorious insecta non grata when the Southern Rolling Plains zone became the first in the Southwest to declare the weevil functionally eradicated.

Eradication officials in Oklahoma and New Mexico report significantly reduced boll weevil trap catches and higher yields.

Also, farmers and landowners approved three new zones in Texas and other areas are looking hard at establishing active zones.

With the addition of the eight-county Southern High Plains/Caprock Zone in November, the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc., includes more than 5 million acres of cotton.

Earlier in the year, the Northern High Plains and the Southern Blacklands zones came into the program.

Meanwhile, growers in the Upper Coastal Bend Zone are holding grower meetings and collecting signatures on a petition to the Texas Department of Agriculture to set a referendum for the eight-county zone in south Texas.

New zones indicate a change of heart for many growers who earlier opposed the program. Administrative changes and heavy weevil pressure in non-active zones convinced many that eradication would be in their best interest.

Growers outside active zones reported intense weevil pressure this year. Yields declined and farmers had to expend significant amounts of time and money to control the pests. Many say weevil pressure cost them a profit margin.

Growers in the Southern High Plains/Caprock Zone voted nearly 4 to 1 in favor of establishing the zone. Earlier, voters had defeated the proposal.

"Boll weevil eradication has always been a producer-driven program," says Texas Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs. She says that establishing active zones show that growers are determined to "eliminate one of the most devastating pests in Texas and American agriculture."

Combs says declaring the 10-county Southern Rolling Plains Zone functionally eradicated marks a significant milestone in the region's attempt to eliminate the boll weevil as an economic factor in cotton production.

"Texas cotton farmers are beginning to win the war against the boll weevil," she says. "Cotton is the state's leading cash crop, accounting for more than $1 billion in sales each year. Eradication will ensure that Texas cotton will remain competitive with other states where eradication has been completed. Production costs are lower in those states."

Lindy Patton, executive director, Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc., says two or three zones will be close to a declaration of functionally eradicated in 2001. He says weevil numbers in the Rolling Plains Central Zone, for instance, have declined dramatically.

In Oklahoma, boll weevil numbers have declined by 82 percent compared to1998, says Oklahoma boll weevil eradication organization director Jerry Coakley.

"Season average trap counts were 1.8 weevils per trap," Coakley says. Traps were placed one per five acres.

"We will be even more aggressive in 2001," Coakley says. "Spray threshold in early season will be one-half weevil per trap. If we find a weevil in a field early, we'll spray the field."

But Coakley believes success the past two years will reduce the number of fields requiring treatment next year. A cold winter would help even more.

"If Mother Nature would cooperate, we would be much further along," he says. "If we could get five days when the temperature never rises above freezing, weevil numbers would drop significantly."

Coakley says growers are pleased with the program. "We've seen better yields since the program began," he says. "Farmers averaged 504 pounds per acre in 1998; 467 pounds last year, in a drought; and 440 to 445 this year, in another drought."

He says farmers are making a top crop because of reduced weevil pressure. "And farmers who irrigate are making exceptionally good yields, 1,000 to 1,200 pounds per acre. Producers don't mind paying the $7.50 per acre and 1 cent per pound assessment because they're getting better yields and essentially not having to spray for boll weevils."

Coakley says the program has run smoothly, with a minimum of complaints since it began three years ago.

"We owe a lot to the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Program for helping us get started," he said. "We didn't need to reinvent the wheel and relied on Texas growers' experience to help establish our program."

Coakley says success in 2000 came despite significant weather challenges. "We had monsoon, drought and monsoon again," he says. "Spring rains kept us from checking traps as timely as we would have liked, but we adjusted and took care of early infestations."

He says an early freeze limited the number of weevils that went into diapause. "We had a freeze on Oct. 5 that killed vegetation on all the state's cotton except a little in the Red River valley. We had to spray that area until Nov. 15."

New Mexico efforts are paying off as well. Luna County boll weevil eradication officials trapped only 30 weevils all season, and the Southern zone, near Las Cruces and into El Paso, Texas, saw an 81.6 percent reduction.

Joe Friesen, program director for the south central zone, says weevil counts were extremely low, "almost non-existent in the areas outside Las Cruces. We still have a battle in the Las Cruces area, however. Fields are small, and we can't use planes to treat weevils. Everything has to be sprayed with a ground rig."

He says progress in the three-year old program has been good. "We've had two full seasons plus a fall diapause treatment," he says, "and we're making progress." The zone includes 23,300 acres.

A new zone near Artesia began diapause treatments this October, and field supervisor Jetta Brown says farmers have already reported better yields than before. "We're beginning to see some advantages," she says.

"We're probably looking at a five to six-year effort," Brown says, "A hard winter would help out."

Another piece of good news for the boll weevil eradication effort comes from Congress. The 2001 federal agriculture appropriations bill provides funding for several cotton industry-related projects, including boll weevil eradication.

The measure provides $79 million in federal cost share for national boll weevil eradication, up from $14 million last year. The funds will be made available to the boll weevil eradication foundations according to a formula recommended by the National Cotton Council's (NCC) producer-led Boll Weevil Action Committee. The USDA's FSA also is authorized to make an estimated $100 million in low interest loans available to producers through the eradication foundations.

"These funds are critical for maintaining momentum of this producer-driven program," says NCC Executive Vice President Phil Burnett. "In 1999 producers contributed about 94 percent of the eradication program costs," he says.

BASS 101, a workshop on managing ponds and lakes for better bass fishing, will be held March 16-17 at the Cain Center in Athens, Texas.

The statewide workshop will be co-hosted by Texas A&M University's department of wildlife and fisheries sciences, the Texas Agricultura Extension Service and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Pre-registration by March 1 is $50 per person or $75 after that date andat the door.

"This program targets private pond owners with complete management information on how to manage their ponds, lakes and reservoirs for better bass fishing," said Dr. Michael Masser, Extension fisheries specialist.

"The program will include speakers recognized regionally for the expertise in fish pond management."

The program will begin with pond construction and renovation techniques mid-afternoon on March 16. That day will end at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center with a tour, social, and panel discussions on improving fishing in ponds and marketing fishing opportunities on private land.

March 17 will be devoted to presentations by experts on all aspects of managing Texas private waters for better fishing. Included in the topics on Saturday will be water quality, stocking and management strategies, improving existing ponds, aquatic vegetation management, troubleshooting problems, and an "ask the experts" panel.

Among the speakers are Bill Deauman and Ken Mayben of USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service; Paul Dorsett of Total Lake Management; Andrew Labay, Mark Webb, Rick Ott and Allen Forshage of TPWD; Stan Smith of Aquatic Management Services; Bill Wingo of Magnolia Fisheries; Bob Lusk of Texoma Hatchery; Barry Smith of American Sportfish; and Rich Noble of North Carolina State University.

Also speaking will be Billy Higginbotham and Masser of the Extension Service; Joe Lock of Angelina Fish Farm; Malcolm Johnson of Johnson Lake Management; Ken Johnson of Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab; Jan Loven of USDA-Wildlife Management Service; and Shauna Hanisch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

To register or for further information, contact Masser at 979-845-7473, or mmasser@wfscgate.tamu.edu.