The Boll Weevil Eradication Program that began in the fall of 2001 was supposed to be a four year program, but it worked so well, the job is done more than a year and a half early. But the early success is bittersweet. Farmers are happy about saying good-bye to the boll weevil, but the foundation says with less work there are fewer jobs to go around.
"It has done what it was meant to do but we're way ahead of schedule," says Lubbock County farmer, Joe Alspaugh.
The Boll Weevil Eradication Program is being called a big success. Before the program began in 2001, farmers spent millions of dollars each year battling the bugs themselves that devoured cotton fields. "We were losing 50-300 pounds per acre to the weevils and now we're harvesting that and selling it," says Alspaugh.
He says farmers are now saving at least $50 per acre. Lubbock is part of zone five in the eradication program, with more than 1.2 million acres of cotton. In 2001 almost 295,000 boll weevils were caught in zone 5 by trappers, in 2002 about 18,000, and last year, just 145 boll weevils were caught out of about 4 million traps set across the Southern High Plains.
In all weevil numbers are down 99%. But decreasing weevil numbers not only means the program is working well, but weevil workers may soon be out of a job. "With the reduced number of traps in 2004 we won't need as many seasonal employees as we've needed in the years prior to this one," says Patrick Burson, with the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation.
Out of 80 full time employees with the foundation, in the next couple of months, almost half of them will lose their jobs and seasonal jobs will also be cut. It was an inevitable outcome but it came sooner than anyone thought. "With less weevils that means less treatment so that kinda goes with the territory and that goes with what we've seen in the last couple of years," says Burson.
"That was kind of the idea that everyone work themselves out of a job," says Alspaugh.
The Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation will not just let people go. They are giving employees who want to stay an opportunity to reapply, that way everyone is given a fair shot. As for the program itself, farmers will vote on continuing it for another four years this November. If farmers say yes, the program will continue in a smaller fashion to make sure boll weevil numbers continue to decrease.