A lack of farmers at a grower meeting is usually a bad sign, but when the South Carolina Boll Weevil Eradication program held its annual grower meeting recently in Florence, S.C., and only a handful of growers showed up — this was a good thing according to David Lynch, a South Carolina grower and ginner, who serves as President of the South Carolina boll weevil organization.

“Back when we had breaks in the program, this room would be full of farmers, because they wanted answers,” he recalls. The lack of farmers in 2005 is the best indication the program is working,” Lynch explains.

South Carolina cotton growers will harvest over 263,000 acres, with yields at approximately 785 pounds per acre. Despite some concern over long periods of dry weather, Mike Jones, cotton specialist at Clemson University, says the crop turned out better than expected.

Neighboring states had equally impressive yields, with North Carolina topping 800 pounds per acres and Georgia just under 800 pounds per acre on over 1.2 million acres of cotton.

Cotton is on the upswing in Virginia and the Carolinas and part of that increase in popularity is due to the long-term success of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program.

Evidence of the growth in cotton acreage in South Carolina is Clemson University's support of the industry. Chris Main and Jeremy Green were recently named to professional positions and three other senior level positions are in the works at Clemson.

Jim Brumley, executive director of the Southeastern Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, says, “The Boll Weevil Eradication Program had a very good year in 2005. Throughout our region, which includes states from Alabama to Virginia, where weevils have been eradicated, we caught one boll weevil all year.” “We believe that weevil came into our region from a piece of equipment from South Texas,” he explains.

The 2005 success, Brumley says, is typical of the low numbers of weevils caught in the past few years. “In 2004, we caught two weevils in two different Georgia counties and in 2003, we caught one in Mobile County near the coast in Alabama. In South Carolina, we haven't caught a boll weevil in the past five years,” he notes.

The growth in cotton acreage closely parallels the success of boll weevil eradication in the Southeast. For example, just a few years ago Georgia had less than 100,000 acres of cotton, and since the program has been in place, they now are over 1.2 million acres.

“We don't take credit for all that growth, but we know our programs have had a big impact on acreage in the states in which boll weevils have been eradicated,” Director Brumley notes.

“In terms of dollars, it is hard to say what impact the program has had, but we know we have reduced the total insecticide use by three or four applications per year. In terms of yield, Extension offices in all states in which the weevil has been eradicated has shown zero yield loss related to the program,” Brumley adds.

In Tennessee and the Bootheel of Missouri, where eradication is now under way, growers set yield records in three of the past four years, according to Brumley.

In states where the boll weevil has been eradicated, growers pay $5 per acre or less to monitor fields for outbreaks. In Mississippi, Tennessee and Missouri where active eradication is under way, growers pay $12-20 per acre.

From a budgetary standpoint, Brumley explains that the Boll Weevil Eradication Program gets no money in states where the weevil is declared eradicated, but in states where active programs are under way, about 30 percent of the cost is covered by Federal dollars.

In South Carolina, 18,675 pheromone traps are monitored from early June until cotton is harvested to insure no breakouts of weevils occur. Barcodes in each trap can be scanned into the organization's computer system to provide valuable information from fields across the state. By downloading information from these barcodes, which are used throughout the Southeast, state directors can tell exactly what minute each one is checked. Additional information on the barcode tells field monitors about changes in the crop as the season progresses.

Typically, these traps go out the second week in June. Over the past five years, no weevils have been found, but prior to that an outbreak showed just how costly escapes can be for farmers, according to South Carolina director, Randy Lynch.

“In 1995, we had a sizable outbreak that was traced back to human error. We had a sizable increase in cotton acreage that year, and we believe uncleaned equipment brought weevils into the state,” Lynch says. “In the spring of that year weevils got into our fields and a field trapper and supervisor didn't discover the outbreak. This lack of diligence by two people took three years to clean up (1995-1998) and cost South Carolina cotton growers over $1.3 million,” Lynch stresses.

2008 is the target date for total eradication of the boll weevil, according to Brumley. Already the program has played a key role in re-establishing King Cotton to its traditional place in Southeastern agriculture.