From the Ground Up - Success of Boll Weevil Eradication For Cotton

It’s believed that the boll weevil, a very destructive insect that impacts the production of cotton fiber, crossed the border from Mexico and entered the United States around 1892.

It moved north and east through states that had cotton based economies. Many writers during that time said that it was the worst thing to happen to their economies since the civil war. Ultimately, some technologies were developed that helped manage the insect, but their effectiveness was limited. Finally, research began to take place to try to develop an eradication program. Charles Allen is a Texas A&M Agrilife Extension entomologist and professor.

“After a few years they developed some chemicals that worked and they were very helpful and helped these guys stay in business, but if you watch that over the years and watched the cotton acreages and the prices and everything, you saw a decline in the industry. The industry was on a slide, and a big part of the reason for the slide was the boll weevil. It cost guys way too much money to manage it.”

In 1983 the boll weevil eradication efforts began nationally.

“The way we taught our people who were working on the program was, it’s a mapping program where you go out and map individual fields, you’ve got to know where these are, every field that you have on every farm. It’s a trapping program. You put traps on every field, and it’s a control program and the control is two pronged. Insecticidal control and then that stalk destruction, and without any of those components, it doesn’t work.”

Stalk destruction after harvest prevented plants from hosting boll weevils over the winter.

“They moved from North Carolina and Virginia to the middle of the country coming west, and from California and Arizona to the middle of the country coming east, and met up in Texas and now we’re in the process of completing the national boll weevil eradication and for Texas, I can’t speak for the other states, but we know since 1996, in Texas, that the net economic benefit of that to growers, farm-gate, after all expenses paid was 2.3 billion dollars.”

As a result of the eradication programs, at least two thirds less chemicals are being used to control boll weevils, and that’s a win/win for farmers, the environment, and consumers who like cotton fabric.