USDA program to eradicate boll weevil cotton pest sees success as pest now confined to the southernmost part of Texas
January 16, 2012
– A federal effort to eradicate cotton's long-time enemy the boll weevil has had success, and the pest is now confined to the southernmost part of Texas along the border with Mexico.
Even there, near where the boll weevil first entered the country in the 1890s, farmers aren't finding the destructive bugs in nearly the numbers of years past.
Texas is the country's largest cotton producer and the last state with boll weevils. An eradication campaign coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for the dwindling numbers, and the southernmost Lower Rio Grande Valley Zone is the last infected area in the nation.
"Now we're having a hard time finding boll weevils in cotton and it's really neat," said Brad Cowan, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service agent. "A lot of Texas growers haven't seen boll weevils for several seasons now."
The boll weevil is a beetle that lays its eggs in the reproductive part of a cotton plant eliminating the possibility that the fluffy flowers, or bolls, will emerge.
"When the weevils are heavy, you can literally have a plant devoid of fluff," Cowan said.
The insects wreaked havoc through the country's "Cotton Belt" for nearly a century. Eradication efforts started in the late 1970s but didn't begin in the Lower Rio Grande Valley until 1995. Initial efforts resulted in crop loss that led growers to opt out. The program began again here in 2005. The support of growers is critical to the coordinated effort, Cowan said.
"If there's a field out there somewhere that is not being monitored and sprayed properly, they can spread out to other fields and it harms everybody," Cowan said.
Last year Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties in the southernmost tip of Texas produced about 200,000 acres of cotton, down somewhat from their historical average due to the drought, said Webb Wallace, executive director of the Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
"Last year was the first year essentially that we had no damage to cotton," Wallace said. "A lot of people couldn't even find (boll weevils) all year. There were some hot spots along the river."
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