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Growers attempt third referendum
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- North Delta cotton growers are hoping that the third time is the charm as they prepare another referendum this season to continue their participation in the regionwide boll weevil eradication program.
The grower-requested third referendum will take place from Sept. 29 through Oct. 10. The local Farm Service Agency offices will count the results on Oct. 17.
A majority of growers in Leflore, Quitman, Sunflower, Tunica and west Tallahatchie counties supported the program in referendum counts held in June and August, but failed to achieve the 66.667 percent required by law for passage. The June tally yielded a 55 percent vote and in August, the percentage increased to 65.95 percent.
On Sept. 22, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce announced plans to place cotton in those counties, Region IA, under quarantine in January. State law dictates quarantine enforcement in the absence of an eradication program.
"Most growers would not have considered the enormous inconvenience or cost of a quarantine," said Will McCarty, cotton specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "A quarantine will be expensive from a grower- and enforcement-standpoint. As growers consider their options for the next referendum, I think they will see that the eradication program offers the best short-term and long-term option."
According to the MDAC news release, "All cotton produced in the region will be required to be ginned within region boundaries. Cottonseed to be moved from the region will require fumigation at an estimated cost of $5/ton. Movement of all regulated articles ... will require a certificate showing that the articles have been fumigated or cleaned prior to movement."
Growers found in violation of any of the quarantine rules will be subject to fines of up to $1,000 per violation.
Producers will also bear the brunt of the cost of a mandatory trapping and spraying program to ensure no weevils are present in the region should there be a request to lift the quarantine.
In a Sept. 18 letter to Region IA growers, the MDAC estimated yearly quarantine costs for growers with land overlapping into adjacent regions to be more than $20 per acre. Growers with fields entirely in Region IA should expect costs to exceed $15 per acre. The department called these "very conservative" estimates.
To take part in the eradication program, growers are voting on annual assessments of not more than $12 per acre. Program managers expect actual assessments to be between $8 and $10 per acre for the next couple of years, then drop even lower to $6 to $8 per acre.
The August referendum passed by 68 percent in Bolivar, Coahoma and Washington counties (Region IB).
The current eradication program started in Mississippi's eastern counties in 1997 and progressed annually westward. The north Delta regions voted to join the five-year program in 1999.