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I’d like to update you on the progress of my Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and our partners in the States and cotton industry have made towards completely eradicating boll weevil from the United States. More than 30 years ago, you could find boll weevils—a tiny, long-snouted, persistent pest— in every cotton-producing state from Virginia to Texas. This beetle migrated from Mexico to the United States in the 1890’s, feasting on our country’s abundant cotton crop. The boll weevil has cost America’s cotton producers more than $15 billion in yield losses and control efforts. Through the cooperative boll weevil eradication program, APHIS and its partners have spent nearly $1 billion fighting this damaging pest, helping cotton growers rid their crop of this pest and increasing their production.
This eradication program has been based on timed sprays during growing season and ensuring cotton is completely removed approaching winter so it doesn’t grow back in the spring, attracting more boll weevils. We also developed a very successful trapping regime with a pheromone-based lure to catch weevils that didn’t get killed via winter or sprays.
Through our cooperative work with the States and cotton industry, we have eradicated boll weevils from 99.5% of the 16 million acres of the U.S. cotton crop. The pest can now only be found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. We face many roadblocks there – extreme weather, rough terrain, and most unfortunately, the violence near the U.S.-Mexico border. But we remain focused on our goal and continue to find innovative solutions to these challenges. In fiscal year 2014, for instance, despite many challenges, we increased the number of boll weevils we captured in the Valley by over 32%. This effort, in conjunction with others in the eradication program, helped growers in the Valley plant 55,000 additional acres of cotton than they did the previous year.
We have accomplished so much, and helped so many producers and communities, through the boll weevil eradication program. We will see this great program through to completion and continue to work with our partners to ensure that the boll weevil is completely eradicated not only from the United States, but also in a 150-mile area south of the U.S.-Mexico border.
We’re almost there. I believe that we will be able to declare the boll weevil eradicated in the next two to three years. To accomplish our goal, we will continue working closely with Mexican counterparts to further align our common interest in boll weevil eradication. Once we are rid of the boll weevil, we will transition to a post eradication program of surveillance and monitoring to ensure continued vigilance against the reemergence of this terrible pest.
I look forward to adding boll weevil to the long list of pests and diseases, like screwworm, pseudorabies, and brucellosis, to name a few, that APHIS and our partners have successfully eradicated to the great benefit of our country’s farmers, ranchers, and consumers.