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Ruling Could Spell Relief for Weevils
JACKSON -- Cotton growers opposed to the boll weevil eradication program believe a ruling by the Mississippi Attorney General's Office is good news, but supporters of the program believe it is good news for the boll weevils.
In a ruling released Jan. 25, prior to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, the attorney general's opinion was that growers could keep the program with a two-thirds majority voting in favor of continuing the program.
The ruling was based on the attorney general's interpretation of the state legislation which established the eradication program in 1993. Eradication efforts began in August 1994 in the 29 counties down the eastern side of Mississippi, known as Region IV.
"Naturally, growers supporting the program believe it would be more fair for a two-thirds vote to kill the program," said Kenneth Hood, president of the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp. "Region IV growers voted the program in and should be allowed to continue without a small number of opponents changing the progress that is being made toward ridding the area of cotton's No. 1 pest."
A devastating insect year resulted in growers from several counties accusing eradication efforts for low yields and crop failures. However, higher than normal insect problems were noted outside the eradication zone as well.
Hood, a cotton grower in Bolivar County, said based on telephone calls from growers in Region IV, he believes more growers are for the program than opponents claim.
For the upcoming referendum to continue the program, at least 50 percent of the eligible growers must vote for the election to be valid. Program opponents presented a petition to the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corp. in December with 416 names calling for a referendum to determine the program's future. The date for the two-week vote has not been set but could begin Feb. 10.
The attorney general's ruling also stated that neither pro nor con material should be mailed with the ballots. The ruling also confirmed that the legislation indicates growers could not be assessed more than $40 per acre to take part in the program.
The wording of the legislation is unclear on whether the $40 figure is an annual amount or the total amount for the first five years of the eradication program.
The ballot that growers passed in 1994 called for an assessment of $101.70 over a five-year period. Those payments would be broken down annually into payments of $10, $16, $16, $29 and $30.70.
"Regardless of how the referendum turns out, we will need a clarification of this issue," Hood said.