Boll weevil eradication offices open

Thursday, July 3, 2003

Two sites have been selected and offices are being opened to coordinate the boll weevil eradication program in the Northeast Delta Region (Mississippi County and Eastern Craighead County). One office is located on Arkansas Highway 18 at the intersection of Arkansas 119 at Leachville, formerly the Cotton Caf, and the second office will be opened in Osceola in the Village Mall. Osceola District supervisor Kimberly Webb Freeman said the Osceola office should be open to the public in about two weeks.

Jaye Massey will be serving as District Supervisor for the Leachville District. Assistant District Supervisors at the Leachville location are Erik Kellim and Jack Davis. Assistant District Supervisors at the Osceola District are Monica Acre and Craig Cornett.

The Arkansas State Plant Board decided in May to mandate a boll weevil eradication program in the Northeast Delta Zone after four referendums failed by a small margin. If the referendums had needed only a majority vote, instead of two-thirds, the issue would have passed.

Michael Catanach, boll weevil eradication program director of administration, has worked with the program for nine years, starting in Texas.

Catanach said that the Northeast Delta Zone involves 300,000 acres and is, as far as he knows, the first in the nation to be regulated against the popular vote of growers. It is the last zone in the state to enter the program.

"We would rather have been invited but because it has been regulated we are here and we will do the best job we can and do it right," Catanach said. "It has been an emotional issue. There has been a lot of work done by the Arkansas Boll Weevil Board of Directors and the State Plant Board trying to avoid regulatory action. It was extremely hard and not taken lightly by anyone in those meetings."

Catanach started with the eradication program as an environmental specialist and assures the communities that the program is very environmentally cautious. There will be six environmental specialist that will work in the zone to make sure there is no drift on sensitive sides.

District Supervisors, Massey and Fleeman, have worked in the program for three years. Massey transferred to the Northeast Delta Zone from Rector and Fleeman from Trumann. Fleeman is a native of Leachville. The acreage will be divided between the two areas giving each approximately 150,000 acres.

The initial work has begun. Presently crew members are mapping all of the fields in the zone with Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment. Boll Weevil traps are being placed, one trap per field, to establish a baseline population for data.

In addition to the field work, supervisors are meeting with the area growers to establish a good, working relationship.

"Local farmers have been extremely cooperative and we appreciate them. We are trying to contact as many as we can before we go into their fields," Massey said. "Some have expressed to us they don't like the way it (boll weevil eradication) was done, but they are working with us well. As a field office we are here and we are going to do it right. We are farmer friendly. We will stay in contact with the growers and consultants. We are looking forward to working with the farmers."

Catanach said in his nine years of experience he has seen the success of the program. Both Massey and Fleeman said in their three years they have had some of its strongest opponents come to them to tell them they saw the difference.

Forty workers will be coming in from other areas to help with the mapping.

"We are on a time table. We usually have about eight months to get ready to start spraying but we will only have a few months for the preliminary work since we started in June," Catanach said.

Once the mapping has been completed, farmers will have access to those maps and any other information program employees have in a database, including how many times a certain field has been sprayed or how many boll weevils were found in specific traps.

Spraying is scheduled to begin in August. Program workers will spray malathion one of the cheapest, best and safest pesticide. Malathion is the most effective on boll weevils. There has been no reported resistance in 30 years. It has been tested and used for 50 years. Studies through EPA, the California Department of Health and other institutions have found it extremely safe and the least expensive of agriculture chemicals. Catanach called Malathion the cheapest, best and safest.

Spraying will be executed by plane, helicopter, ground rig and mist blower truck. Tree rows, railroad track or forest areas are not sprayed.

Catanach said local applicators will be used when possible. The pilots have to be certified and the planes have to be equipped with GPS systems. Catanach pointed out that 10 ounces of spray per acre by airplane is what will be used or 16 ounces per acre by mist spray.

During the first year, every field will be sprayed every week until there is no hostable material in the field. The next year spraying will be decreased to where it is needed. Mid-August is the target time.

In addition to the planes and helicopters, there will be 24 mist blowers. In addition to the supervisors and assistant supervisors, there will be 16 field unit supervisors. And six environmental specialists working with the program.

Growers will pay $8 per acre this year. The State Plant Board chose to set assessment one year at a time to reflect the actual cost. Assessments will be paid at the FSA Office at certification. An estimated fee schedule per year is $8, $14, $14, $10, and $8 irrespectively.

The first two years are usually the most expensive Catanach said. The first year's cost has been estimated at $9.8 million. Catanach explained that funding will come from several sources. The state legislature appropriated $5 million to boll weevil eradication in 1999 and again in 2001. The Northeast Delta Zone should see about $2.1 million of that appropriation; Federal funding and an APHIS grant will provide $2.875 million; and 50 cents per acre ($2.7 million) from the Southeast Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation who oversees the program in all states east of the Mississippi River and Missouri.

"Anything growers can do in 2004 to save the program money will in turn save them money," Catanach said. "The Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation and the State Plant Board will be putting out information with tips to the growers to save money. A lot of people are still looking for alternate funding, also. The Northeast Delta Zone has the lowest assessment of anywhere in the United States.

Next year program workers will put out about 80,000 to 90,000 traps, which will be checked on a weekly basis. Officials will monitor the boll weevil population and spray only the problem areas. Officials believe eradication will take no more than five years. Once eradication has been achieved, a maintenance program will remain in place to guard against a re-infestation.

In the worst case scenario, a female boll weevil can produce two million offspring by the end of the season.

A farmer's field can go from eradicated to populated in a short time, Massey commented.

District Supervisors wants farmers in the Northeast Delta Zone to feel free to contact program officials if a problem develops.

"We don't want a small problem to develop into a large problem," Massey said. "If someone has a problem, come to us directly."

Massey can be contacted at the Leachville District at 740-8530. Fleeman can be contacted at the Osceola District at 740-8533.

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