Recent rains in many cases have provided enough moisture to germinate cotton seeds that were either planted earlier this spring or are remnants of last year's harvest and thus are presenting a problem, as this cotton might now be considered noncommercial cotton, which will not be taken to harvest.

In an effort to protect Texas' $2.1 billion cotton industry, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is requesting that all noncommercial cotton (that is cotton that will not be taken to harvest) be destroyed immediately.

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) has increased enforcement on noncommercial cotton in order to reduce the risk of boll weevil infestation and spread. Texas law prohibits the growth of noncommercial cotton in any boll weevil eradication zone except under a special permit issued by TDA. Permits are only given for cotton grown for research, demonstrations or education.

The following guidelines will be used by TDA to determine if the cotton is to be considered noncommercial cotton.

If a cotton field that has been failed is found to have hostable cotton, they will determine if another crop has been planted in the field. If any other crop has been planted in the field, they will then treat the cotton as noncommercial cotton. If no other crop has been planted in the field, they will determine if the field is under trapping/treatment by the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation (TBWEF), and if the field is under trapping/treatment by TBWEF, treat the field as commercial cotton.

In contrast, if the field is not under trapping/treatment by TBWEF, they will treat the field as noncommercial cotton.

If a field contains noncommercial cotton, TDA will send an Official Notice for Prohibited Noncommercial Cotton to the land operator, requiring compliance within 14 days of the date of the notice.

To avoid administrative penalties, the producer must either destroy the noncommercial cotton or enter into a compliance agreement with TDA within 14 days of the date of the notice.

Under a compliance agreement, the producer will have the option of treating the crop for boll weevils or pay the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation (TBWEF) an amount equal to the full boll weevil eradication assessment for the area and allow the TBWEF to carry out the treatments for boll weevil.

Contact your local TBWEF office or the main office at (325) 672-2800 for additional information.

The producer will be subject to administrative penalties beginning the fifteenth day following the date of the notice until the date the producer either destroys the cotton or enters into a compliance agreement with TDA.

Will TDA destroy or treat the noncommercial cotton you might ask?

No. The producer is required to destroy, treat or arrange for treatment of the noncommercial cotton.

Sunset Legislation

The recent legislative session ended with some implications for local cotton producers. Of note, the Texas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation Sunset legislation passed and was signed by Governor Perry. Included in the Sunset Bill was new legislation regarding noncommercial (volunteer) cotton and cotton stalk destruction, according to Jeff Nunley, Executive Director, South Texas Cotton & Grain Association. These new laws take effect immediately and Texas Department of Agriculture is currently working on initial set of rules.

According to Darrell Dusek, STWG BWE Zone Manager, there were 419,710 acres of cotton planted in the zone in 2009, and only about 45,000 acres will be carried to harvest. Here locally in Nueces County, we had about 93 percent of the cotton acres failed due to drought, which leaves only about 9,000 acres of viable cotton that will be taken to harvest.

The Boll Weevil Eradication Program has been very successful thus far, with weevil numbers dramatically reduced from a few years ago, however, if we are to be successful in totally removing this pest from our local area, we must do a good job of removing potential viable habitats for the weevil, and that means destroying all noncommercial cotton, whether it's in fields, along roadways, ditches or in your backyard garden.

Jeffrey Stapper is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at 767-5217.