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Ga. cotton farmers glad to say boll weevil is gone

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    STATESBORO — After a costly eradication program, Georgia cotton farmers say the destructive boll weevil is gone from Georgia fields and from much of the country.
    In the 1980s, the boll weevil burrowed its way across cotton fields and caused the state’s cotton industry to hit record low yields.
    But today, Georgia farmers say they have had five years without the quarter-inch long, dun-colored beetle that insinuated itself into the plant’s boll, laid eggs and watched its offspring scissor through the plant and ruin it.
    ‘‘Definitely, the boll weevil was a bad boy,’’ said Kevin Hendrix, a fourth-generation farmer harvesting cotton outside Statesboro in east Georgia. ‘‘We’re sure glad he’s gone.’’
    But getting rid of the boll weevil did not come cheaply.
    Researchers discovered the pheromone, or scent, that boll weevils give off when they want to mate. The beetles were then lured into bright-green traps filled with insecticide that encircle fields.
    In 1986, Georgia’s 2,800 cotton growers agreed via referendum to tax themselves to rid the state of weevils using the traps. Taxpayers covered 30 percent of eradication costs.
    A decade later, Georgia produced 2 million bales, its largest yield since 1919. Revenues topped a record $720 million. Today, the statewide eradication programs costs farmers only $2.50 per acre, down from $35 an acre.
    ‘‘It’s an inexpensive and effective way to control’’ the boll weevil, said Bill Grefenstette, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s top weevil eradicator. ‘‘Growers’ cost of producing the crop drops dramatically when they’re not spraying every week. And we’ve taken tons of fairly hot pesticides out of the whole production scheme.’’
    In 2002, the USDA officially declared the boll weevil eradicated in Georgia.
    ‘‘We expect Georgia to be weevil-free forever,’’ said Grefenstette, adding that pockets of western Tennessee, northeast Arkansas and part of Missouri aren’t as fortunate. He expects nationwide eradication by 2010.
    ‘‘If we can go a whole season without picking up anything, it’s time to dance,’’ he said.
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