Boll weevil eradication vote coming once again

Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Mississippi and eastern Craighead County cotton farmers and landowners will once again be asked to approve a boll weevil eradication program, according to Mike Wilson, a county cotton gin owner.

Ballots for the new referendum will be mailed Jan. 29 and must be completed and returned to the Farm Service Agency by Feb. 15.

The new proposal for the program, which was approved Tuesday, Dec. 18, by the state Boll Weevil Eradication Board, is different from the original proposal. That proposal called for a $10-per acre per year assessment for seven years for all area cotton farmers and a maintenance fee of $3 per acre per year thereafter.

About 60 percent of those casting ballots voted for the first proposal, just short of the 66 percent required for passage.

Boll weevil eradication is already in progress in the rest of the Cotton Belt, including all areas adjacent to Mississippi County and the western portion of Craighead County. An estimated $80 million has been spent to date to eradicate the cotton pest from the United States. Because weevils can migrate from breeding areas to other areas to feed on crops, state and federal agencies had threatened to quarantine all cotton-producing and transporting activities in and out of Mississippi County if an eradication proposal was not passed for this growing season.

Wilson said the new proposal, which was worked out by him and a group of Buffalo Island farmers, allows producers in the center of the affected areas to pay a lower fee for eradication than producers near the St. Francis River, Big Lake and the Mississippi River.

The wooded and wetlands areas are considered prime breeding grounds for boll weevils, Wilson explained. Producers in those areas pay a higher amount to control the weevils than producers in the center areas.

"It's dollars and cents," he explained. "It's economics. Farming is not the best business right now."

Feeds for the eradication program in the center portion, which involves 103,000 acres of the estimated 350,000 acres of cotton in the eastern Craighead and Mississippi County area, would be $10 per acre per year for five years. Producers in the areas around wetlands would still be required to pay $10 per acre per year for seven years. Maintenance for all farmers in the eastern Craighead and Mississippi County region beginning at the end of their $10 payment period would still be $3 per acre per acre. This area begins at the Missouri state line, south of State Highway 139 to State Highway 18, then south to Black Oak, to State Highway 135 south, then south on State Highway 135 to the Poinsett County line, then east on the Poinsett County line to the Mississippi County line, then south on the Mississippi County line to state Highway 140, then east on Highway 140 to State Highway 181 north, then north on Highway 181 to State Highway 18, then northwest on State Highway 18 to State Highway 77, then north on State Highway 77 to State Highway 119 north, then north on State Highway 119 to the Missouri state line, then west on the Missouri state line to the point of beginning.

Eligible voters in this referendum will be cotton producers from the 2001 crop year and landowners with crop share interests in cotton production for 2001. Cash rent landowners will not be eligible to vote in the referendum.

The proposal was approved by the state Boll Weevil Eradication Board.

"This is very fair," Wilson said. "I think it will enable us to go ahead and pass this."

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