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Hear, See and Speak No Weevil:

Kansas Gets Ahead of Number One Cotton Pest

By Blair White

In many locations across the Cotton Belt, boll weevils have not been a topic of conversation for decades – except in Kansas. Gary Feist, Kansas Cotton Association Chairman, and KCA Advisor, Rex Friesen, helped lead the charge in getting this program presented to the state legislature. House Bill 2559, better known as the Kansas Cotton Boll Weevil Act, was signed into law in April 2022.

The first thing one might wonder is: does Kansas have a boll weevil problem? Actually, no, but its neighboring states have in the past. Cotton is still a relatively new crop in Kansas, making it the right time to establish an adequately-funded, comprehensive defense plan.

Early on, Friesen and Jerry Stuckey, former manager of Northwest Cotton Growers, did most of the voluntary trapping and tracing, but as acres grew in Kansas, they knew they needed to establish an organization that could scale up and be recognized by the National Cotton Council. Friesen and Feist gained helpful insight from Texas and Oklahoma about best practices for the Kansas program.

“Texas and Oklahoma both helped us a lot,” Feist said. “They told us about the good and bad parts of their programs, so we were able to create ours without adding a lot of red tape. We are following the Oklahoma mapping program. There wasn’t a need to reinvent the wheel when we had a very good one just south of us.”

When the cotton industry came together to eradicate the pest in the 1980s and 90s, their efforts were successful. The only place weevils are noted today is in Southern Texas, as they tend to migrate up from Mexico. So, how big is the threat if there are no weevils in Kansas?

“The whole reason we are doing this is to get up to national standards because every state has a trapping program,” Friesen said. “We need to be able to identify populations of weevils if they should exist and deal with them promptly. Should we have them, we want to discover them as early as possible so we can eradicate them before they become widespread.”

The boll weevil program will have grower and industry oversight. As participation is no longer voluntary, growers will fund the program with 50 cents per bale. All in all, these efforts are proactive measures to ensure Kansas does not have to endure the kind of crop destruction its neighboring states did at the hands, or rather, legs, of the tiny brown insect.

“The per-bale fee is the equalizer,” Friesen explained. “Whether you have irrigated acres or dryland acres, if you are charging a fee per acre, that really favors the irrigated people because they are producing much more cotton than dryland producers. By charging per bale, it does not matter how many acres it takes to make a bale or how many bales per acre you get. It’s a fairer way of charging.”

The program will be operated independently of the state, with producers remaining in control of the program through a board of directors. The money collected will pay a director’s salary, seasonal help, and materials such as traps. A portion of the funds will be set aside should boll weevils appear and require eradication.

“What’s different in Kansas is we aren’t like Lubbock or Southwest Oklahoma,” Feist said. “We aren’t just cotton field after cotton field. We are shotgun scattered across the south- ern half of Kansas. Just finding new fields is often a problem. Now that the boll weevil director can get the field locations from FSA, that will be a big help to our trapper with the boll weevil program.”

“You have to be really aggressive in eradication,” Friesen said. “It’s one thing to control a pest, to manage a pest, but to eradicate them takes a lot more aggression. You’ve got to go after them. It’s hard, and that’s why it has cost the cotton industry millions of dollars to clean them out of the Cotton Belt. That’s part of the investment we are protecting by having a program. Bottom line – this is for the farmers to make sure we keep cotton viable in Kansas. This is one aspect that we need to have under control, and I think we do. I think we are in good shape.”

It was a collective effort on behalf of the Kansas cotton industry to get the program passed. The Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas Cotton Association, Kansas Cooperative Council, and many state representatives presented a united front.

“We just want to thank everybody that has helped us,” Feist said. “Having the support of our Kansas producers – it was easy to work on this project knowing we had their support.”

Boll Weevil Program Highlights

  • HB 2559 established the Kansas Cotton Boll Weevil Act (Boll Weevil Act) and created the Kansas Cotton Boll Weevil Program (Boll Weevil Program).
  • The Boll Weevil Board will consist of five voting producer-members and three ex-officio non-voting members: The Dean of the Kansas State University College of Agriculture, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Kansas Cotton Association Chairperson. Each may also appoint a designee for representation. Each board member will serve a four- year term. The board must meet at least once every calendar year. The board has the authority to establish and implement a cotton pest monitoring program.
  • The bill allows the boll weevil board to authorize the development and implementation of an eradication plan with the secretary, pursuant to the Plant Pest and Agriculture Commodity Certification Act.

Above details courtesy of the Kansas Legislative Research Department