FLORENCE, S.C. — The state’s cotton farmers will gather Tuesday for updates on the Boll Weevil Eradication Program in South Carolina.

The annual meeting at Clemson University’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence County will bring updates from the S.C. Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation, the Southeast Boll Weevil Eradication Program and Clemson’s Extension, research and regulatory programs.

“The Boll Weevil Eradication Program is one of the most successful such efforts ever devised against an invasive agricultural pest. Cooperation among farmers and others in the cotton industry as well as researchers, regulatory officials and Extension professionals is the key to that success,” said Sarah Wilbanks, assistant director of fertilizer regulatory and certification services in Clemson’s Regulatory Services unit. “We appreciate input from all who are involved in this extensive effort.”

The meeting begins at 10 a.m. in the Pee Dee REC administrative building and will provide a summary of the program during the 2019 growing season, with particular attention to any problems that need to be addressed.

When the boll weevil invaded the United States near the start of the 20th century, it crippled the American cotton industry. Farmers fought back with heavy doses of pesticides. But the Boll Weevil Eradication Program, first organized more than 30 years ago, combined coordinated pesticide applications with baited traps to methodically drive the insect back to Mexico.

An early-warning system of weevil traps was established wherever cotton is grown — an essential precaution because boll weevils are highly mobile insects. The last boll weevil caught in South Carolina appeared in 1997, almost certainly a hitchhiker that took a ride on farm equipment coming from another state.

Re-infestation of the pest would be devastating to the economy. Nationally, the cotton crop earns approximately $6 billion per year. A traditional staple of the South Carolina economy, cotton is the state’s most valuable field crop and routinely covers 300,000 acres.

“The vigilance of the Boll Weevil Eradication Program is essential to protecting our cotton industry,” Wilbanks said. “Regular input from farmers and industry keeps it capable of defending against this pest.”

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