Weevil eradication referendum fails

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Mississippi County and Eastern Craighead County farmers have once again failed a referendum to implement the Boll Weevil Eradication program in the Northeast Delta Zone.

The vote by mail between Dec. 1 and 14 was the third time in less than a year that cotton growers in the Northeast Delta Zone, consisting of Mississippi County and eastern Craighead County, have defeated a boll weevil eradication referendum. The ballots were counted Monday.

According to Mark Bryles, Arkansas Boll Weevil Board member, of the 884 votes cast, 65.05 were in favor and 34.95 were against the program. The law requires a 66 2/3 percent majority to pass the Boll Weevil Eradication program.

In eastern Craighead County, the vote was 164 for passage and 115 against, for a total of 58.78 percent for passage.

In Mississippi County, the vote was 411 for passage and 194 against, for a total of 67.93 percent for passage.

Bryles said it is not known what the next step will be for promoters of the Boll Weevil Eradication program.

The Northeast Delta contains about 330,000 acres of cotton and is the only growing area in Arkansas without an eradication program. Craighead County cotton growers west of St. Francis River are in a program adopted in 2000.

The proposal on which the cotton growers voted differs in two key respects from the previous votes. First, the work was to be carried out by the Southeast Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, which is based in Montgomery, Ala., and is in charge of the eradication programs in all states east of the Mississippi River plus Missouri. The Arkansas Boll Weevil Foundation is in charge of the eradication program in all other cotton-growing areas of the state except the southwest, where Lousiaina carried out and completed the work under a contract with the state.

The second difference was in the cost. The assessment to the farmers in the latest proposal was to be a maximum of $8 per acre for seven years and not the $10 previously rejected. A maintenance fee of no more than $3 an acre was to have been charged after the eradication work ended.

The Southeast Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation stepped in to offer help after Bryles said four other Northeast Delta Zone cotton growers asked him to contact the organization. Foundation Executive Director Jim Brumley said his organization would help because the lack of a program in the Northeast Delta Zone was hurting the eradication efforts in Missouri and western Tennessee.

The Southeastern Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation would have assumed liability for any cost overruns and shortfalls as well as put $6 million into the program. Arkansas would have contributed $3.5 million over the first two years to the Southeast Board. The difference in the $80 million program would have come from the farmers and the federal government.

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