South Texas cotton and grain preplant meeting slated Jan. 16

WESLACO  –  One of the hottest topics on the agenda for an upcoming cotton and grain sorghum preplant meeting is whether cotton growers nationwide are interested in funding boll weevil eradication efforts in South Texas, according to Brad Cowan, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent in Hidalgo County.

South Texas cotton growers gathered for a field day last year in Weslaco. Acreage this year could drop due to uncertainties in the market. (AgriLife Communications photo by Rod Santa Ana)

“We’re the last and only cotton-growing area of the country that has not eradicated the boll weevil,” Cowan said. “That’s a local concern, but it could also be of concern to all cotton growers in the U.S. because of a potential reinfestation from weevils in this area. That’s why we’re so anxious to hear from Dr. Don Parker, an integrated pest management coordinator from the National Cotton Council in Memphis.”

The 19th annual Cotton and Grain Preplant Conference will begin at 8 a.m. Jan 16 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, 2415 E. Business Highway 83 in Weslaco.

Parker’s talk, “Beltwide Proposal to Assist the Valley with Boll Weevil Eradication,” is scheduled to address discussions cotton growers have had nationwide to eradicate the boll weevil along the Texas/Mexico border to keep populations from spreading back across the country, Cowan said.

“There would have to be some kind of vote among growers, and there would be some cost to them, either by the bale or the acre, to fund it. But we’re hearing that growers in other areas of the country are voicing support for such an effort. Apparently, cotton growers outside South Texas are willing to contribute to see that the weevil is eradicated down here.”

Why growers here are still battling an insect that has been eradicated in virtually every other cotton growing area of the state and nation is debatable, Cowan said.

“It could be because of our subtropical climate being more conducive to weevil survival, or it could be our proximity to Mexico’s boll weevil populations, or both.”

While most areas of the state and the country are either no longer spraying malathion or spraying minimally to keep populations suppressed, the costly sprays in South Texas continue and are numerous.

“Malathion is a very safe product,” Cowan said, “but we’re still having to make multiple sprays during the cotton growing season. We’re not spraying the dozen or so times that old-timers recall, but fields were sprayed an average of six times last year.”

And Mexico, Cowan said, is struggling to maintain their coordinated spraying operations.

“Eradicating boll weevils down here would have to include efforts with our Mexican counterparts, but there are problems in the eradication effort now due to drug cartel violence,” he said. “Some areas of Mexico have excellent control, but others are having a difficult time reaching fields in a timely fashion to either survey or spray.”

Cowan cited the screwworm eradication effort of years past as an example of how a binational effort to rid both countries of pests can be successful.

“The populations of screwworm that were affecting cattle were first eradicated in the U.S., then in Mexico and eventually as far south as Central America. So it is possible,” he said.

While the fight against weevils is important, other factors of even more importance are on the minds of growers as planting season approaches, usually from mid-February to mid-March.

“Those other factors include the current price of cotton, uncertainty in the world cotton marketplace for this year’s crop, continued uncertainty about the U.S. Farm Bill and a tight local supply of irrigation water and the lack of rainfall,” Cowan said.

The uncertainties make forecasting difficult for the coming year, Cowan said.

“Some expect cotton acreage this year will be down by as much as half from last year’s 145,000 acres; only time will tell.”

But there is a positive side, he said.

“Fortunately, healthy prices for grain sorghum and corn are expected to hold, and low input crops such as sesame and the new guy on the block, guar, are expected to be strong as well.”

Other topics to be discussed include cotton and grain varieties for 2013, the market outlook for cotton and grain, new herbicides for grain, the area’s soil testing campaign and new developments in the industry.

For more information, contact Cowan at 956-383-1026 or email b-cowan@tamu.edu.

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