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Excluding Boll Weevil Saves North Carolina Cotton Producers Money

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Excluding boll weevil saves North Carolina cotton producers money

Cotton production is a historically important crop for North Carolina. Cotton was produced in all 80 counties east of the Great Smoky Mountains in the state from 1919 to 1926. During these years, an average of 1.76 million acres per year were planted to cotton in the state. That all changed with the arrival of the boll weevil during the early 1920’s. By 1978, cotton acres were reduced by nearly 98%- only planted on 42,000 acres in the state. A big reason for this was not only the cost of managing boll weevil, but losses caused from the difficulty controlling this pest. This purpose of this article is to provide North Carolina cotton producers (most of whom have never seen a boll weevil) three good reasons to continue supporting exclusion of this pest.

1)  The cost of excluding boll weevil is vastly lower than the cost of managing boll weevil

North Carolina growers currently pay $0.75 for every acre of cotton planted to exclude boll weevil from the state. This funds a monitoring program where traps are placed and checked at a density of one trap for every 52 acres of cotton. If boll weevil is found, an eradication procedure would swiftly take place to eliminate the pest from the area.

So how much are cotton producers saving? Just after major eradication efforts in the 1980’s, researchers estimated lower insect management costs (71% reduction), higher cotton yields (69 lbs. lint/A) and increased land values (20%) across North and South Carolina. Adjusted for inflation, the total economic advantage of eradicating boll weevil from North Carolina and Virginia is estimated at $249.43 per acre per year– a >99% return on investment in favor of exclusion.

2)  The cost of excluding boll weevil is vastly lower than the cost of eradicating boll weevil

Boll weevil eradication in North Carolina was a herculean effort that required almost inconceivable political and grower cooperation. North Carolina cotton growers paid 50% of the fees, while the state of North Carolina, APHIS, and the USDA paid the remaining 50%. Adjusted for inflation, North Carolina cotton growers paid $215.45, $97.98, and $55.80 per acre in 1978, 1979, and 1980 to fund the eradication effort.

In addition, the eradication effort spurred secondary pest problems. A lynchpin of the eradication effort involved multiple sprays of malathion. This broad-spectrum insecticide was highly effective for managing boll weevil, but also decimated populations of beneficial insects. With nothing to hold them back, pests like beet armyworm roared onto the scene. In the early 1990’s, active eradication efforts in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi triggered mind-boggling beet armyworm epidemics. For example, in 1993 every acre was treated for this pest in central Alabama. During the same year, over one million acres of cotton were treated for this pest in Mississippi, with over 71 thousand bales lost despite these treatments. The worst outbreak took place when eradication moved to the massive Texas High Plains cotton production region. In 2000, nearly 2.5 million acres of cotton were treated for this pest in Texas, with nearly one million bales lost despite these treatments.

3)  The environmental costs of eradicating boll weevil are high

As mentioned previously, boll weevil eradication relied on numerous sprays of malathion. In addition to flaring secondary pests that require even more insecticide applications, malathion is highly water soluble. This means that it can run off the target field into surrounding waterways, harming wetland life. Furthermore, this insecticide is toxic to applicators. Increased exposure through eradication efforts would only increase its effect.

In summary, these are only three of many reasons why excluding boll weevil is superior to eradication. Boll weevil is native to Mexico and Central America, where it thrives, and is a major pest of South American cotton. Therefore, the threat of reintroduction is always present given the prevalence of worldwide trade and travel. The Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation of North Carolina works hard to ensure that this pest is excluded from our state through its monitoring efforts, sustaining cotton production for the future.