More than 6 million acres of Texas cotton will be included in the Boll Weevil Eradication program in 2001 as three new zones become active with fall diapause programs.

In addition, cotton growers in the Lower Rio Grand Valley have begun steps to initiate a voluntary boll weevil management program, and growers in the Upper Coastal Bend are taking initial steps to re-activate their BWEP zone.

"We will have 11 active zones this year," says Charles Allen, program director for the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc.

"Also, we anticipate a quarantine program to be activated this year to monitor movement of equipment, seed, etc., from an inactive zone into a zone that has been declared functionally eradicated or is close to that designation.

"This is a sensitive area," he said. "We don't want to hurt folks who need to move equipment from one area to another, but we also must protect against re-infestation. To do that we have to assure that only clean equipment enters the zone."

Allen discussed needed changes and eradication status during a recent cotton seminar, part of the Blacklands Income Growth (B.I.G.) Conference in Waco.

He's confident that all cotton across the entire Cotton Belt will ultimately be included in an eradication effort of some sort.

"Farmers who have invested a lot of money in the program will not allow pockets of weevils to exist to re-infest areas from outside active zones," he said.

He sees room for improvement in the Texas program as acreage expands. "We have had some trouble with field access," he said. "Turn rows are supposed to be available in all fields to allow our vehicles to get in. Limited access slows us down."

He said the Foundation has the authority to move down outside rows to access traps and take care of other in-field chores. "We prefer not to do that," he said. "We want to cooperate with farmers in every way we can and not create any animosity."

He's also convinced that a more aggressive public relations effort in newly active zones will help prevent problems and alleviate public concerns about aerial applications.

"We want to be proactive in these new zones," he said, "and get our message out before citizens hear negative comments from other sources."

Allen said organic cotton, some 10,000 acres in Texas, poses challenges to the effort as well.

"And the sizeable beet armyworm outbreak we had last year limited mid-season treatments. We tried not to spray more than 10 percent to 15 percent of acreage in zones with beet armyworm infestations. We were pretty effective in doing that."

He believes the program will have access to enough malathion this year to take care of needs but admits that supplies "might be tight.

"We're hoping a harsh winter will reduce boll weevil numbers and reduce the need for treatments. Snow cover in the High Plains has limited mortality somewhat, but other areas in the Cotton Belt have had significant cold snaps."

Allen said newer zones have done a lot in a short time to eliminate the boll weevil.

In the El Paso/Trans Pecos Zone, farmers are trying to eradicate weevils and pink bollworms simultaneously.

"This is a new program for us," Allen said, "but we believe we have a good plan and will be successful. We did not have a lot of weevils last year."

Trap counts averaged only .0096 weevils per week, a 96 percent reduction from initial counts. The program averaged only 1.36 treatments per acre in 2000.

"A lot of acreage borders New Mexico," Allen said, "so we'll have to cooperate with New Mexico eradication efforts to be successful."

The Northern Rolling Plains zone, including 338,000 acres, began eradication efforts in 1999. Trap catches last year were down to 2.54 weevils per trap per week, an 88 percent reduction.

"This zone is close to inactive zones, so we get some migration," Allen said. "Consequently, we had a lot of treatments, 9.8 per acre on average."

The Northwest Plains Zone also became active in 1999 and includes 586,000 acres. Trap catches were down to 1.27 per trap per week last year, a reduction of 78 percent. "Migration was a problem here, also," Allen said.

He said acreage will increase in this zone in 2001 as farmers switch corn acreage to cotton.

The Permian Basin Zone, 769,000 acres, is mostly dryland cotton. Trap catches averaged only 0.44 per trap per week last year, a 98 percent reduction from 1999.

"Our target is 90 percent," Allen said. "A 98 percent reduction is phenomenal." He said an early cutout helped reduce numbers in 2000.

The Western High Plains has 819,000 acres in the program, the biggest active zone. Trap catches are down to 0.70 weevils and a 96 percent reduction since 1999.

Older zones also show good results from the past few years, Allen said.

"We have 365,000 acres in the Southern Rolling Plains, which became active in 1994. On Sept. 20, 2000, the zone was declared functionally eradicated. We found no evidence of weevil reproduction in this zone last year. Trap catches averaged 0.000095 and reduction is set at 99.999 percent. We caught just 49 weevils all year. We treated only one acre out of every 100 last year."

The South Texas Winter Garden Zone, 123,000 acres, entered the program in 1996. Trap catches last year averaged 1.23 and reduction is considered 91 percent.

"We had some regrowth problems following a hurricane, and that hindered treatments," Allen said. "We also have some urban challenges with homes close to some fields. We have to use ground rigs to treat these areas. Next year, we may be able to use helicopters."

The Abilene Zone, 785,000 acres, is close to functionally eradicated. Weevil trap catches were at 0.2 last year with just 1.54 treatments per acre. "We will probably be able to declare this zone functionally eradicated by next year," Allen said.

He said weevil catches in the Lower Rio Grand Valley last year approached 900 per trap. "Farmers there are looking at options," he said. "Those are high numbers."

Three new zones will begin diapause treatments this fall: The Northern High Plains, The Southern High Plains/Caprock and the Southern Blacklands.

New zones will increase Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation employees to more than 2,000, a hefty jump from the 1,500 employed last year.

Allen said state and federal funds will help defray program costs through 2004. "We get $5.13 million from the sate and $1.27 million from the federal government," Allen said. "That's 24.4 percent of program costs."

Total budget through 2004 will be $26.2 million. Funds are allocated to zones based on program costs in each zone, Allen explained. "We try to provide 24.4 percent of the cost for each zone."

He also noted that most costs come from chemical and application expenses. "In 2001, 46 percent of the total program cost will be for chemicals and 27 percent will be for application. That's more than 73 percent of the budget."

In 2002, 36.8 percent will be for chemical and 42 percent will be for application.

Allen said farmers in new zones should be aware that the first year includes a lot of mapping and applications. "We don't apply pesticide based on weevil numbers the first year," he said. "We assume everyone has weevils."

He also cautioned growers in new areas to be diligent about paying their assessments. "If a farmer doesn't pay, a lien is put on that year's crop. He will have a hard time collecting any money until the lien is cleared.

"If the crop fails, the assessment is still due." Allen says if the program runs as planned, active zones should be close to functionally eradicated status by 2004.