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Frequently Asked Questions


Q: What is the boll weevil eradication program?

A: The Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc. is a grower-initiated and funded program designed to eliminate the boll weevil from the cotton fields of Texas.

Q: Who is responsible for carrying out the program?

A: The state Legislature has given the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, Inc., the authority for the implementation of eradication throughout the state. The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) has been given responsibility for holding referenda and has oversight of the Foundation's operations. TDA also sets the assessment each year, which cannot exceed the maximum amount approved in a referendum and approves the due dates for those assessments.

Q: What is the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation?

A: The Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation is a non-profit organization initiated and funded by Texas cotton producers, with oversight from the Texas Department of Agriculture, created to collectively eliminate the costly, cotton boll weevil from Texas cotton. The mission of the Foundation is to eliminate the boll weevil from Texas cotton fields in the most efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sensitive manner possible.

Q: How was the Foundation created?

A: The Texas Legislature established the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation in 1993 to carry out a statewide boll weevil eradication program. The state is broken up into 1 maintenance region and 5 boll weevil eradication zones. Cotton producers in each of the Texas zones had to vote in a referendum on whether or not to start a program in their zone and to approve a yearly assessment to pay for the program. Once a zone voted to move forward with a program, the Texas Foundation proceeded to carry out program activities associated with the boll weevil eradication program.

The Southern Rolling Plains zone, around San Angelo and Ballinger, was the first to start the program on 220,000 cotton acres in the fall of 1994. Subsequently, it also became the first zone in Texas to be declared functionally eradicated (no weevil reproduction) in Sept. 2000.

In 2009, the statewide program covered more than 5.45 million cotton acres in 16 Texas and four New Mexico zones. To date, 11 of the 16 Texas zones have already been declared either suppressed or functionally eradicated.

Q: Why does a cotton-producing area need boll weevil eradication?

A: Texas cotton producers spend about $70 million dollars each year to control the boll weevil. Despite their efforts, the boll weevil causes an estimated $200 million in crop losses each year. Eradication has been proven to increase yield, lower production costs and eliminate the use of pesticides for the boll weevil. (Yr 2000 $ figures)

Q: What is a boll weevil?

A: The adult boll weevil is a small, grayish or reddish-brown beetle, about one-quarter inch in length. It has a snout about half the length of the body and double-toothed spurs on the inside of the front legs near the end of the first segment. Boll weevils feed on and lay eggs in the fruit of cotton.

Each female can lay up to 200 eggs (laying each egg in a separate cotton square or boll). The entire life cycle of egg to adult can be completed in three weeks or less resulting in multiple (five or more) generations per year.

Eggs are white, elliptical in shape and 0.8 mm in length. Eggs are seldom seen because they are deposited inside squares or bolls and covered with a glue-like substance.

Larvae are white, wrinkled, "C" shaped, legless grubs with tan/brown heads. They range from 1/5 to 2/5 inches in length.

Boll weevil larvae

Boll weevil larvae

Pupae resemble the adults but are white in color with darker eyes and beaks in the later stages of development. Larvae and pupae are only capable of wiggling movements in contrast with the coordinated movement of the head, antennae, legs and wings seen in adult weevils.

Boll weevil pupae

Boll weevil pupae

Q: How did the boll weevil come to be in Texas?

A: The boll weevil is native of Mexico and Central America. It was first introduced into the United States near Brownsville, Texas, in about 1892.

By 1922, the pest had spread into cotton growing areas of the United States from the eastern two-thirds of Texas and Oklahoma to the Atlantic Ocean. The boll weevil colonized northern and western portions of Texas during a subsequent range expansion that occurred between 1953 and 1966. By 1981, the insect was well established in parts of California, northwestern Mexico and Arizona.

Q: How does the boll weevil damage cotton?

A: Boll weevils feed on and reproduce in cotton. In fact, cotton is the only cultivated host in which reproduction is known to occur. Both the feeding and reproduction processes damage bolls on the cotton plant ultimately reducing quality and the amount of cotton lint available for harvest.

Adult boll weevils emerge in the spring and search out cotton fields that are producing fruit (squares). After feeding on cotton squares for three to seven days, female boll weevils begin laying eggs. To lay an egg, a female boll weevil chews a hole in a square or small boll with the mandibles at the end of her snout. She then deposits an egg in the hole and fills the hole with a sticky secretion that dries to form a plug. Once the plug is formed, the weevil egg, larvae and pupae are completely protected. This is why boll weevils are only affected by pesticide at the adult weevil stage, once they've exited the cotton fruit.

Boll weevil egg punctures

Boll weevil egg punctures

The egg hatches in three to five days producing a larvae. About three days after the larvae begins feeding in a square, the square turns yellowish-green, bracts flair open and the square drops from the plant. When small bolls are infested, they do not fall from the plant. Boll weevil larvae feed inside the square or boll for seven to 14 days, after which they change to the pupal stage. After emergence from the pupal stage, the adult chews its way out and, in a few days, begins to lay eggs for the next generation.

Punctured squares in which eggs are laid usually fall off the plant with the resulting loss of that fruiting position. Boll damage may range from one damaged lock to loss of the entire boll. A common occurrence is boll rot because of weevil damage.

The damage resulting from this activity negatively affects the profitability of cotton through the loss of production as well as cotton quality. These factors have a significant impact on Texas's cotton industry and the state's economy as a whole. In fact, The National Cotton Council estimates that the boll weevil has cost U.S. cotton producers more than $13 billion since entering from Mexico a century ago (National Cotton Council, 1994). Yield losses attributed to the boll weevil, the cost of insecticide control, environmental considerations, infestation of secondary pests, and insect resistance have all resulted in an aggressive effort to develop a Beltwide strategy for eradicating the boll weevil in the United States.

Q: How can I determine if a field is infested?

A: While cotton is in the fruiting stage:

  • 1. Look for flared squares, which are often yellowed.
  • 2. Check blooms for feeding adult weevils.
  • 3. Look for damaged, mis-shapen bolls which may harbor weevils.
  • 4. Look for "cells" inside bolls which may contain weevils.
  • 5. Check squares for signs of feeding and egg laying damage shown by the presence of yellow-orange pollen grains.

Q: Why is it necessary for all growers in an area to participate in boll weevil eradication?

A: Boll weevils migrate. They move around primarily as airborne adults. In the spring, movement from hibernation sites is usually steady across a field, but adults may fly to distant portions of a field or to distant fields. Throughout the summer, movement within and between fields occurs randomly, but the greatest movement activity occurs in the spring and late summer. As cotton matures, weevils move from fields to surrounding fields seeking food and hostable cotton plants to deposit eggs, or they may move to hibernation sites.

Although most growers judiciously apply control measures to boll weevil-infested acreage in almost all such areas, 5-20 percent of the infested acreage may receive inadequate or no control treatments (Knipling, 1979). This uncontrolled acreage harbors populations capable of re-infesting neighboring areas. Models developed by Knipling (1979) demonstrate that if only 10 percent of a population remains untreated, that portion of the population can develop normally and redistribute throughout the entire area after only four generations--less than one growing season. Also, judicious application of control measures cannot protect against reinfestation from neighboring areas the following season. Thus, growers who treat their acreage are faced with a continuing need to reapply insecticide to control infestations.

The National Cotton Council estimates that the boll weevil has cost U.S. cotton producers more than $13 billion since entering from Mexico a century ago (National Cotton Council, 1994). Yield losses attributed to the boll weevil, the cost of insecticide control, environmental considerations, infestation of secondary pests, and insect resistance have all resulted in an aggressive effort to develop a Beltwide strategy for controlling the boll weevil in the United States.

Overall movement by individual weevil flights is influenced strongly by wind currents. Weevils moving into cotton fields in the spring are able to feed on young plants, even in the cotyledon stage, but females cannot reproduce until squares are large enough to feed on and to lay an egg in the feeding puncture. This requires flower buds about the size of a pencil eraser.

Males moving into a field containing fruiting cotton settle down to feed, releasing pheromone and attracting females. Females moving into the field respond to this pheromone and move little after mating. Early infestations, therefore, tend to occur in clumps.

Q: How is the program funded?

A: Cotton producers and crop-sharing landowners pay the majority of program expenses. Some cost-share funds are available from the state and federal government.

Because assessments do not cover all the operating costs each year, loans are obtained to cover the deficit. As the program progresses, costs decrease and assessments are used for debt reduction. When debt-reduction costs drop, so do assessments.

After a zone has repaid its debt, a maintenance fee will be charged. Experience in other eradication programs has shown that this charge is minimal.

Q: How is eradication accomplished?

A: The main components of eradication are mapping, trapping and treatment.

First, all cotton fields are mapped using Global Positioning Satellite technology. Longitude and latitude coordinates are downloaded to produce maps that provide information used by field techs and aerial applicators to locate fields. The data is also integrated into other information systems to allow program employees to quickly and easily determine which fields should receive treatments.

Next, traps are placed on the perimeter of the fields.These traps are the "eyes" of the program and provide Foundation personnel with data on boll weevil activity while also removing weevils from the field. Program employees place yellow-green, cone-shaped pheromone traps around the perimeters of all cotton fields. The pheromone attractant (lure) is a man-made copy for the natural aggregation and sex attractant used by weevils to communicate to each other where weevils are gathering to feed and reproduce. The pheromone-baited traps are very effective in determining the presence of boll weevils in cotton fields. Because the traps contain an insecticide strips, they function as a control method as well. They are helpful in reducing weevil populations in the later phases of the eradication process.

Control is primarily accomplished through:

  • 1. the use of good cultural practices such as early planting and harvest and the timely removal of hostable material from fields,
  • 2. and insecticide applications.

Most insecticide applications are performed by aerial applicators, but in areas where this is not possible or near sensitive areas, such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, housing developments or ecologically sensitive areas, ground rigs are used to apply the insecticide.

The Foundation treats cotton fields that meet treatment criteria with malathion ULV, a chemical also used in mosquito control, at a rate of 12 ounces per acre. Malathion is most commonly applied by aerial application, however, where that is not possible or near environmentally sensitive areas (lakes, schools, churches), an application may be made with a ground sprayer.

Spraying begins when cotton reaches pinhead square stage and continues until harvest or a killing freeze. Typically, less spraying is done during the middle of the cotton season to preserve beneficial insects.

Q: How are aerial applicators hired?

A: Each work unit's contract is let on the basis of competitive bids. An applicator's past performance may be taken into account before the contract is given. During the season, each applicator's work is evaluated, and failure to observe program protocols may result in a contract being given to another applicator. All applications are monitored to ensure adherence to program protocols.

Q: How long will eradication take?

A: Already, 97 percent of the cotton grown in the United States is weevil free. Some experts project complete eradication in the next four to five years.

Q: How do growers benefit from the program?

A: Because the boll weevil is the most consistent threat to cotton, a large part of a grower's insecticide costs go to weevil control. Eradicating the weevil results in higher yields and lower costs.

After eradication, costs for all cotton-pest control also tends to decrease through the resurgence of beneficial insects and values usually increase.

Q: How does the general public benefit?

A: Fewer insecticides are introduced into the environment, and the area's economy improves. The damage caused by boll weevils goes far beyond the destruction of cotton bolls. Studies have shown that millions of dollars are lost to communities through the loss of trade and jobs associated with the support industries because grower income is reduced. In some cases, growers leave agriculture altogether and may leave their communities to find employment, taking their families and business with them.

Q: How does eradication affect other insects?

A: Malathion is detrimental to other insects, including beneficials and honey bees.

The foundation closely monitors the activities of other cotton pests, such as beet armyworms and aphids, and will reduce control efforts if these populations grow too large to make sure beneficial insect populations that help control these pests are not reduced. The Foundation works with beekeepers to make sure hives are not affected by eradication treatments.

Q: Will I be informed before my fields are sprayed?

A: Yes. If trap catches indicate a need for your field to be sprayed, a field unit supervisor will call you the night before the spraying is scheduled.

You can aid the effort by making sure you provide the FUS with your correct phone number, making sure your answering machine, if you have one, is on, or providing the FUS with an alternate number if you can't be reached or if a message cannot be left.

Anyone else who may be affected by the spraying, such as consultants, will also be informed if the FUS is provided with the appropriate phone number.

Q: Who decides a zone is eradicated?

A: The Foundation keeps detailed records of trapping data. When that data shows very little weevil activity taking place, program personnel will join with extension personnel to determine if reproducing populations are present.

If no reproducing populations are present, the Foundation's program director will present the data to the Foundation's Technical Advisory Committee for review. The committee is composed of experts from the state's universities, the Agricultural Extension Service, USDA-APHIS and the National Cotton Council.

If the committee agrees with the findings, the information is forwarded to TDA for further review. TDA has developed guidelines for determining whether an area qualifies for a declaration of eradication.

If this review of the data meets the criteria, the commissioner will make the declaration of eradication.

Q: What efforts are made to prevent reinfestation once eradication is accomplished?

A: TDA has developed rules designed to protect grower investment in eradication.

An eradicated zone is released from quarantine and the movement of cotton, harvesting equipment and cotton by-products from an uneradicated zone to or through an eradicated zone will be strictly regulated.

Besides these rules, growers in eradicated zones are watchful to make sure no threat to their investment is allowed in their area.

Q: How much will the assessment be?

A: The assessment cannot exceed the maximum set in the referendum. The assessment will probably be set at the maximum for at least six years to ensure adequate cash flow to pay for the program and associated debt.

Q: What if I plant cotton but destroy it before harvest?

A: Some zone steering committees request a credit be given on the assessment for failed acres. The amount of the credit varies by zone, but in all instances, fields must kept free of hostable cotton through the end of the growing season before a credit will be applied. Steering committee recommendations are reviewed by the Foundation's Board of Directors and forwarded to the commissioner of agriculture for approval. The commissioner sets the assessment rate for all zones.

In later years of the program, the amount of cotton planted in a zone usually rises dramatically. In older, active zones, steering committees have requested that all cotton planted be charged some or all of the assessment even if the crop is later failed. This takes care of the continuing costs of mapping and trapping fields and ensures adequate cash flow and prompt repayment of the zone's debt.

Q: What if I can't afford the assessment?

A: Because this cost is usually fixed, many growers include the assessment in their operating loan. However, you may make arrangements with the Foundation to pay the assessment in installments. A small late fee is added to any unpaid balance.

Q: What if I don't pay at all?

A: A lien may be placed against the cotton grown for the current crop year. The Foundation's lien does not have priority over other liens that may be attached to your cotton.

If the Foundation lien does affect you, you will not be able to sell your crop or receive the proceeds from the sale of the crop until you have paid your outstanding balance for that crop year.

Again, the Foundation will work with you to make arrangements to pay your assessment.


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