The last two sanctuaries for Texas boll weevils are considering slamming the doors on the destructive pests.

Growers and landowners in both the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the Northern Blacklands zones will decide later this year if they’ll participate in the Boll Weevil Eradication Program.

An information meeting has been scheduled Oct. 20 at the KJT Hall in Ennis at 9:00 a.m. LRGV growers, meanwhile, have an area-wide meeting at noon on Oct. 19 at the Casa Del Sol in Harlingen.

Growers have attended a series of local meetings throughout the Valley and four remain. Two meetings will be held Tuesday, one at 8:00 a.m. at the Progresso Co-op Gin and a noon meeting at the Lutheran Church in Lyford. Meetings are scheduled Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. at McCook Grain in McCook and at noon at Rio Farms in Monte Alto.

No one is predicting how the vote will turn out, but observers say interest has been high in both zones.

“I’m more positive about the outlook for this referendum,” says Steve Beakley, an Ellis County farmer in the Northern Blacklands Zone. “Feedback I’ve heard so far is more positive than has been the case in the past.”

Two prior referenda failed to garner enough votes to participate in the BWEP. Beakley says reports from some of the counties that opposed the measure in the past now appear more supportive “We’ve had a lot of boll weevil pressure this year,” he says. “If ever there was a year that would show the need for eradication, this one was it.”

Beakley says he sprayed some of his cotton six times in season and still had 87 percent punctures in the top crop. He figures weevil pressure cost him close to a bale per acre. “We still had a significant cost for treatment,” he says.

He made a good cotton crop, averaging around 700 pounds per acre on dryland production, but figures without weevil damage much of his acreage would have hit two-and-a-half bales.

“Weevils are hard to get rid of,” he says. “Wet weather keeps us out of the field and then if we spray and a neighbor doesn’t, they just build back up.

Texas Extension specialist Glenn Moore, who works out of the Waxahachie office, thinks the referendum will pass this time. “But it’s likely to be a close vote,” he says.

“Landowners may hold the key,” Beakley says. “It’s sometimes hard to get those absentee landlords’ votes in.”

Moore says support seems better from individual growers and acreage throughout the zone. He agrees that the weevil problems this year will prompt some prior opponents to support the program.

“A lot of growers lost from one-half to one-fourth bale per acre to weevils even after spraying six time in-season,” he says.

Moore says the Southern Blacklands zone “is anxious for us to get in the eradication program. They’re getting re-infestations from the north so they see a benefit from our participation.”

Moore says growers will soon see limits on cotton movements because of quarantines established to protect active eradication zones from re-infestation.

Potential to eradicate the weevil quickly are also good, Moore says. With active zones surrounding the Northern Blacklands, re-infestation will not be a problem so control strategies should be effective.

Brad Cowan, county Extension agent in Hidalgo County, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, says interest in information meetings has been high. “I won’t guess how the vote will turn out, but we’ve had a lot of interest and a lot of participation in the local meetings. We believe that the only way to make an informed vote is to have adequate information and the programs have had an excellent package of information.”

Cowan said weevil pressure was extremely heavy throughout the Valley this year. “But we still made a good cotton crop. Some growers say it’s the best crop they can remember.”

The LRGV referendum ballots will be mailed Oct. 22 and must be returned with a postmark no later than Nov. 8 to be valid. No date has been set for the Northern Blacklands referendum but likely will take place in January or February 2005, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

TDA also reports that retention referenda are underway in the Northern High Plains and the Southern High Plains Caprock Zones. Ballots from the NHP must be post-marked no later than Oct. 19 and deadline for the SHPC is Dec. 7.

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com