The boll cotton production between 1915, when the insect was introduced to Georgia, and the early 1990s, when it was eliminated as an economic pest. The adult boll weevil measures from three to eight millimeters from the tip of the snout to the abdomen, which is half the length of its body. Its color is usually reddish or grayish brown but may vary according to age and size. A distinctive characteristic is the double-toothed spur on the inner surface of each front leg. A newly hatched larva is inconspicuous, and the mature larva is white, legless, and about thirteen millimeters long. Larvae complete development in cotton fruiting structures.
Yield losses associated with the boll weevil reduced cotton acreage from a historical high of 5.2 million acres during 1914 to 2.6 million acres in 1923. Although insecticides provided temporary relief, the cotton industry remained unprofitable, and planted acreage continued to decline, to a low of 115,000 acres in 1983. In 1987 Georgia growers began participating in a program to eradicate the boll weevil. Over a period of years the program proved successful, and Georgia producers have increased cotton acreage and yields significantly while reducing their dependence on insecticides.
Since elimination of the boll weevil as an economic pest, insecticide use in cotton has been reduced by approximately 75 percent, and yield losses associated with insects have been reduced by 50 percent. The most damaging and frequent insect pests Georgia growers encounter today are bollworm and tobacco budworm (both caterpillar pests that feed on squares and bolls). Others include the cotton aphid, beet armyworm, cutworm, fall armyworm, tarnished plant bug, cotton fleahopper, soybean looper, stink bugs, thrips, and whiteflies. Modern Georgia cotton producers take an integrated approach to insect management, using such natural controls as predatory bugs to suppress pest populations. Insecticides remain a critical component of insect-management programs but are used only on an as-needed basis on in-field pest populations.
The BWEP is an ongoing program, as boll-weevil reinfestation continues to be a threat to the cotton industry. Cotton growers pay an annual assessment on each acre of cotton planted to monitor for and eliminate reinfestations if they occur. Boll weevil traps can be commonly observed on the perimeter of Georgia cotton fields during late summer and early fall. For the Georgia cotton industry, the BWEP has been a tremendous success from both an environmental and an economic perspective.