Eradication of boll weevils continues

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, June 6, 2012


COURTLAND—Since 1996, the southeastern area of Virginia remains essentially free of cotton boll weevils. But vigilance is necessary, and this year is no exception.

For this annual task, the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services since 1990 has employed survey trappers from July through September to look for the once rampant pests.

“An infestation can have a devastating effect on the cotton boll,” said Larry Nichols, program manager of Plant Industry Service for the VDACS. “Many years ago they were a real problem. They’re voracious eaters.”

The boll weevil is usually smaller than a fingernail. An adult is one-quarter to one-half inch long.

“The USDA has been working with states to eradicate them from the country,” Nichols said.

“It is succeeding, but they’re still found in isolated places. Probably the primary source is used farm equipment, or as people travel, they carry them with them. But today the southeast is boll weevil-free.”

Southampton County Extension Agent Chris Drake remembered trapping in Virginia from 2001-2009 and in North Carolina from 2005-2011.

“You set them (the traps) out. You do everything,” Drake said. “You’re responsible for assembling the plastic lime green cups with the wire screens and putting in the pheromone lures specifically designed to get the weevils.”

Drake mentioned that the lime green color is scientifically found to attract the pests.

Using a pre-determined grid system, the traps are placed so that all cotton fields are within a half-mile of a trap.

“These are monitored on a three-week cycle,” he said. “You take the top off and check, replace the lures. This is done three times.”

Nichols added that the trap kills “the suspects,” and any that are found are taken to the agriculture office in Franklin or county extension office for confirmation.

Because of the project’s success, now it’s just maintenance to detect an outbreak, which is very, very unlikely, Drake said. The last live boll weevil was found in 1996 in Greensville County, Va., and in 2005 in Edgecombe County, N.C.”

The program cost farmers about $4 an acre in the early part of the new century, he added. Now the fee is about 50 to 60 cents an acre.

The success of the trapping extends to the vast majority of U.S. cotton acreage, Drake said.

“The successful eradication of the boll weevil, attractive cotton prices, and high yielding earlier maturing varieties brought cotton back to the forefront in Western Tidewater in the early 1990s,” he said.