SIKESTON -- A small beetle that once wreaked havoc on Missouri's cotton crop has been "functionally eradicated" in the Bootheel where 100 percent of the state's cotton is grown.
"This year 19 boll weevils were collected in the state," said Judy Grundler, director of Missouri Department of Agriculture's Plant Industries Division.
This year's figure compares to the 1 million boll weevils captured in 2002, the 19,000 trapped in 2006 and last year's 929, Grundler said. Surveys conducted in 1996-1997 showed an average of 200 weevils were caught per trap per week in Missouri, she said.
Since 2001, the Plant Industries Division has worked to increase Missouri's cotton production by eradicating boll weevils, which feed on cotton buds and flowers. The insects have cost cotton producers more than $7 million a year in crop loss and pesticide use.
By 2007, the Missouri Boll Weevil Eradication Program concluded, and in 2008, a post-eradication program officially began.
"Post-eradication efforts include trapping and being on the lookout for any infestations," Grundler said.
Boll weevils are monitored weekly during the entire cotton season, which runs from about May until the end of October, Grundler said.
While Grundler wasn't quick to say the insects were nearing extinction, she preferred to call the state's boll weevil population as "functionally eradicated."
The 19 weevils were found in different areas of the state, including the Missouri-Arkansas line and near Crowley's Ridge in the Essex and Vanduser area.
"Some of these that we captured are actually imported in from other states, particularly around state borders," Grundler said.
Missouri cotton yield averages have increased and are well above the national average since the beginning of the Missouri Boll Weevil Eradication Program.
Missouri is looking at its second largest cotton yield average on record, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A yield of 1,048 pounds per acre is forecast, behind the highest yield on record in 2004 when 1,054 pound per acre were picked.
Under the program, more than 390,000 acres of cotton in Dunklin, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Scott and Stoddard counties are treated with Malathion, a low-toxicity pesticide commonly used for mosquito control. Most of the affected areas were sprayed by aerial equipment, while more sensitive areas, including those near schools, homes and organic crops, were treated by ground equipment.
Before the eradication program began, Missouri cotton growers estimated a loss of 50 pounds of lint per acre due to the boll weevil, which translates to $25 per acre. Before the eradication program, Missouri was ranked nationally in the lower tier of yield averages. Over the past three years, Missouri's yield averages have ranked fourth across the U.S. Cotton production in the state has steadily increased with a record of 985,000 bales produced in 2006.
Most feedback about the program from the state's cotton growers has been positive, Grundler said, adding when the program began, about 25 percent of cotton growers were against boll weevil eradication.
"Over the years, I've had people come up to me and how successful they thought it was," Grundler said. " Some were not true believers. And there are some who will never change."
The annual economic benefit to eliminating the boll weevil is estimated to be $780 million nationwide.
Grundler noted every single cotton-planted acre in United States has either eradicated the boll weevil or already finished up a program. All states are to be "functionally eradicated" by 2010, she said.
"Out of all the (cotton) acreage in the United States, less than a million are active eradications," Grundler said.
Meanwhile, post-eradication efforts like trapping and close monitoring of fields will continue, Grundler said. She added: "It's been a successful program."