One of the Texas' first boll weevil eradication zones has become the first to reaffirm its commitment to eradicating the most consistent threat to cotton production in Texas.

Cotton producers and crop-sharing landowners in the 26-county South Texas/Winter Garden zone overwhelmingly approved, with almost 88 percent of the votes, a retention election that keeps the eradication effort in the zone moving forward.

By approving the referendum, voters also voted to maintain the zone's maximum assessment of $23.14 an acre. They also chose a new representative to the board of directors. He is Mark Morris of Chapman Ranch, in Nueces County near Corpus Christi.

“I think the vote is a testament to how well the program is working in our area,” said Morris, a gin manager and cotton producer. “The program has more than paid for itself.”

Craig Shook of Corpus Christi agreed. “This shows that the program works and that people down here want to continue with a successful program,” said Shook, farm and ranch manager for the Driscoll Foundation.

“Of course we're very pleased with the outcome of the vote,” said Lindy Patton, executive director of the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation in Abilene.

“The producers in south Texas have had to overcome setbacks from the courts and hurricanes, but they're seeing the results of eradication.

“Their yields are up and their costs are down, which is what we're trying to accomplish. South Texas growers are continuing to show their leadership with this vote.”

After a successful referendum to establish an eradication program, the South Texas/Winter Garden zone began eradication in 1996. The program was briefly shut down because of a Texas Supreme Court decision, but legislators quickly addressed the court's concerns, allowing the program to resume in 1997 should cotton producers in the zone vote again to affirm their previous decision.

They did so by about a 2 to 1 margin.

When it reworked the laws providing for an eradication program, the legislature provided for retention of elections to be held every four years after a zone's initial referendum passed. The south Texas retention election is the first to be held under this provision.

Since the inception of the program, the South Texas/Winter Garden zone has experienced a 98.8 percent reduction in the number of weevils in the zone.