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Last Nail For The Boll Weevil print email

Webb Wallace
RGV Ag Science, Inc.
Harlingen, Texas

Something happened this season that has not happened in more than 110 years! Cotton producers in the entire U.S. suffered no crop loss due to boll weevil. The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (LRGV) is the last remaining boll weevil hot spot in the U.S., but the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Program is working very well in its fifth full season here. Not only could no boll weevils or damage be found in any of the fields I scouted, but no reports were given of boll weevil damage anywhere in the Valley. Granted, weevils are still present in the Valley, and we still have a lot of work to do, but we’re well prepared to start pounding the final nail into the boll weevil’s coffin.

The LRGV planted only 91,000 acres of cotton this season, down considerably from our past average of 250,000 acres. The recent reductions in acreage have made boll weevil control both easier and cheaper. Boll weevil trap counts were very low for most of the 2010 season. But after seven to 11 inches of rain from Hurricane Alex on June 30 and then two to four more from Tropical Depression No. 2 the following week, both trapping and spraying efficiency suffered for much of July. As trapping got back to full efficiency in late July and August, boll weevil numbers increased more than usual, but, by that time, cotton was being treated regularly and was being defoliated.

Stalk destruction has been good so far, and, barring any extended wet weather, we expect weevil populations to be low again next season.

Climate, Herbicide Resistance, Violence In Mexico

Many challenges remain to finishing the eradication job, though. For one, the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas is the only sub-tropical cotton-growing region in the entire U.S. The LRGV experiences a killing freeze only about one year in 10, and even a heavy frost only occurs about every fourth or fifth year. Cotton is a true perennial in the LRGV and can grow into very large bushes with stems up to six inches thick after several years.

Early and thorough stalk destruction is critical in South Texas to control boll weevils. In areas where it can be safely applied, many producers rely on 2,4-D to kill post-harvest cotton stalks. With reports of 2,4-D-resistant cotton in the pipeline, South Texas producers are concerned about the impact this technology could have on eradication efforts. Also, many eradicated areas in West Texas have seen the construction of extensive wind farms with giant wind turbines. Aerial spraying around these turbines is extremely difficult, if not impossible. There are plans to begin construction of a 150 turbine wind farm in the middle of prime Valley crop land as early as 2011.

Cotton producers in the northern Mexico state of Tamaulipas began their eradication program about the same time as the LRGV. Recent reports indicate that violence in northern Mexico has begun to impact their program operations. There are some areas that can not be safely accessed by workers, and program efficiency has begun to suffer. In past years, Texas program managers and USDA researchers routinely traveled to Tamaulipas to offer technical support for their program. The Tamaulipas program director recently told our guys, “DON’T COME.”

LRGV growers began the eradication program with some worries that the Valley would be a perpetual buffer zone for the entire state and the U.S. With recent deterioration of the Tamaulipas program, it looks like that worry could be justified to some degree. Although drug related violence has been confined to Mexico, operations of the LRGV program have been impacted slightly. Construction of the border wall (pictured above) has created a strip of no man’s land, ranging from 1/4 to one mile wide between the wall and the Rio Grande. To ensure safety of our workers in this strip, trappers travel in groups of five or six vehicles to do work that would normally be done by one trapper in one vehicle.

Cotton growers from across the entire Cotton Belt have a huge investment in the boll weevil eradication program, and we all have a huge stake in seeing the program through to completion. Although it won’t be easy, I think we can finish the job. Hand me that last nail, please.

Click here to ask Webb Wallace a question or submit a comment about this month’s Cotton Consultant’s Corner.

• Ph.D. in Agronomy from Texas A&M University. Works with cotton, seed corn and grain sorghum
• Member of the Texas Association of Agricultural Consultants, NAICC and the American Society of Agronomy
• Executive Director – Cotton/Grain Producers of the LRGV


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