February 13, 2007

Boll Weevil Nearly Gone From Ark. Fields


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A tiny pest that has caused billions of dollars in damage to cotton fields nationwide has nearly been eradicated from Arkansas fields, officials said.

Danny Kizer, executive director of the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program, said Monday that the boll weevil population has been reduced at least 99 percent since the effort began 10 years ago. The insect should be all but eliminated from Arkansas cotton fields in two years, he said.

"It's just a blessing to see the improvement in the yields and the quality," Kizer said.

The eradication program, combined with heartier cotton varieties and more acreage planted in cotton, has made for record improvements, he said.

In 1998 - the year before Arkansas' eradication program began - Arkansas cotton fields yielded 645 pounds per acre. That per-acre figure hit 1,076 pounds in 2006. Arkansas' highest yield ever was in 2004 - 1,114 pounds per acre.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated the volunteer eradication program in 17 cotton-producing states, beginning in 1983. The USDA contributes about 25 percent to 30 percent of the cost while participating farmers pay the remainder after voting by zones whether to join the program.

Kizer said the cost to Arkansas growers varies by its five zones but amounts to about $100-$150 per acre, except in the Northeast Delta Zone, which was placed under state Plant Board jurisdiction after a legal dispute.

Once the pest is eliminated, the fee will drop considerably - to $3-$5 per acre - to cover the cost of maintenance and monitoring the fields. Another plus, Kizer said, is that farmers don't have to use as much pesticide on their crops.

Bill Grefenstette, the USDA's national coordinator, said about 14.2 million acres in the U.S. now are weevil-free, or about 87 percent of the country's cotton acreage.

"Nationwide, we're about three good seasons away from being virtually finished," Grefenstette said.

The boll weevil first appeared in the United States in south Texas around 1892, migrating from Mexico. The damage to cotton crops and loss to farmers since then earned it the name "the $20 billion dollar bug."

Grefenstette said that for every $1 invested in eliminating the boll weevil, farmers and the local economy enjoy a $12 benefit. Since 1983, the federal government has spent more than $2 billion on eradicating the pest while growers have contributed about $5 billion.


On the Net:

Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program: http://www.arkansasweevil.org


CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Days after Vermont lawmakers agreed on a mechanism to provide $3 million in emergency aid to dairy farmers, some New Hampshire legislators hope to adopt a similar plan.

State Rep. Jay Phinizy, who chairs the House Environment and Agriculture Committee, said that falling milk prices are threatening the state's dairy industry and it's time to act.

He has co-sponsored a bill that would create a $3 million Emergency Milk Relief Fund through a 2.5 cents per gallon tax on milk distributors. When the wholesale price of milk falls below $12 per hundred pounds of milk produced, the money would be distributed to farmers.

"We've been talking about this for years and, frankly, I'm tired of talking about it," said Phinizy, a Democrat. "We're talking about getting a really good floor, a good base of support for the dairy farmer."

The committee will hear three bills involving milk this week. Another proposal would create a similar fund, but would pay out subsidies to farmers when the price of milk falls below $14 per hundredweight. The third bill would require distributors to pay farmers at least half the retail price of milk.