Announcing this year’s Friends of Southern IPM Award winners

This year was a boon for the Friends of Southern IPM award program. We received 44 nominations in total; 19 for the graduate student awards and 25 for the professional awards. It was the largest pool of nominations we’ve ever had. The number of choices made decisions difficult for the award panels, but we wound up with some strong winners and in most cases, very tight competitions.

The Masters student award winner, Luis Aristizabal, was one of 7 nominees in that category. Originally from Colombia, Aristizabal moved to the United States in 2009 to escape the violence in Colombia. With 10 years of experience as an extension specialist with a national coffee research organization, he landed a job with Catherine Mannion of the University of Florida as a lab technician, where he conducted research on invasive pests of ornamentals. After mastering English, he entered the University of Florida in 2014 as a masters student and began research on biological-based management of chilli thrips, a serious pest of roses. His research resulted in a rapid sampling plan to correlate visual damage and population size estimates, along with an aesthetic damage threshold.

In addition to his research, Aristizabal has helped mentor two visiting scientists, one from Mexico and the other from Pakistan. He also has given presentations during meetings and published several peer-reviewed and Extension articles.

Louisiana State University Ph.D student Christopher Werle was chosen over 11 other nominees for the Ph.D. student award. Like Aristizabal, Werle works with ornamentals and has done research that has had considerable impact in areas outside of his home state. He has worked on several grants, including four in which he was either Principal Investigator or co-Principal Investigator. His research has resulted in five peer-reviewed publications about ambrosia beetles and was funded with three major USDA Agricultural Research Service grants and agreements.

In addition, Werle developed a portable trapping station for nocturnal pest species, a device that is currently being patented. Some nurseries are currently using the trap; in fact, one nursery saved 50 percent on insecticide costs by using the device.

Werle has also worked with teams on monitoring the spotted wing Drosophila. One publication that he co-wrote helped researchers develop monitoring processes that eventually resulted in a commercial bait and trapping system for SWD that also had the potential to trap paper wasps.

The first of six awards for IPM professionals, the Bright Idea award, went to Dr. Oscar Liburd from the University of Florida. Liburd, a specialist in berries, developed monitoring protocols for two major blueberry pests and one major strawberry pest that have resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of pesticides used and an increase in growers monitoring for those pests.

Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) changed pest management rules for most small fruit growers. A pest that buries its eggs inside ripening fruit, SWD has caused massive losses for small fruit growers because shipments containing even one fly were rejected in total. In Florida, most blueberry growers were spraying for SWD without monitoring for it first. Liburd refined and developed monitoring protocols for SWD by evaluating commercially available traps and baits and providing growers with quality devices. He also developed monitoring tools for early detection of thrips in blueberries and identification of feeding areas on the plant. He also developed a combination spot treatment / biocontrol management series for gall midge on blueberry.

In addition, Liburd introduced the use of predatory mites to control twospotted spider mite for strawberry. Many strawberry growers were spraying for twospotted spider mite. Liburd researched biocontrol possibilities for the pest and found that one mite, Neoseiulus californicus, provided better control than using two different mites. Where spider mite populations are too high for the predatory mite to control, Liburd developed a precision “spot spray” system that fits onto a conventional boom sprayer to concentrate the mitacide so less can be used.

Dr. Edward Sikora of The Alabama Cooperative Extension System won this year’s IPM Implementer award. Dr. Sikora coordinates a program focused on monitoring and management of soybean rust, the Soybean Rust Pest Information Platform for Extension and Education (SBR-PIPE). Soybean is a $40 billion crop in the U.S., bringing in about $100 million to Alabama alone.

Sikora joined other plant pathologists from the time that SBR was first detected in the U.S. and served on the planning team to create the warning system. The program was developed with USDA grants and now persists with the help of $1.7 million in funding from the United Soybean Board. Estimates put savings for soybean producers at over $1.3 billion since 2005 through the prevention of unnecessary fungicide applications or alerting growers to apply fungicides to protect their crop. In particular, the system saved one county in Alabama from losing 95 percent of its acreage with savings of approximately $5 million.

With Sikora’s leadership, the monitoring program has expanded to include frogeye leaf spot, another economically important soybean disease. The increased monitoring helped detect the disease in 21 new counties in the U.S., including 4 in Alabama. Increased outreach helped growers manage the disease effectively and avoid a potential 30 percent yield loss.

Dr. Mike Waldvogel, this year’s IPM Educator, runs the Urban Entomology extension program at NC State University. To give practical education to pest control professionals, Waldvogel runs a Structural Pest Management Education and Demonstration Facility, where he shows participants how to practice proper inspection and treatment for subterranean termites. He has also developed extension fact sheets and bulletins, along with presentations and publications for pest control professionals, homeowners and regulators.

Despite the fact that his faculty appointment involves extension and teaching, Waldvogel has done extensive research and conducted trials on new termite control approaches. However, the bulk of his effort is in extension. He has answered hundreds of pest control questions from both industry experts and consumers, including questions about pests at historical landmarks, hospitals and the North Carolina Zoo.

This year’s Future Leader is Dr. Ashfaq Sial, IPM Coordinator in Georgia. Sial stepped into the role of IPM Coordinator in July 2013 and took off running. Within the first six months, he had requested to be added to all of the Southern IPM Center’s listservs and begun networking with his fellow IPM Coordinators and southern researchers. Originally from Pakistan, Sial started at the University of Georgia balancing responsibilities for the statewide IPM coordinator program as well as his own programs for major pests of small fruit crops.

“My major goal was to hire an individual who would make the University of Georgia a regional and national leader in IPM programs,” wrote Dr. Raymond Noblet, head of the entomology department, in his nomination. “Ash has exceeded our expectations in all areas. He is an exceptional researcher and extension scientist, an excellent teacher and mentor, and one of the most capable individuals I have known in my career.”

Shortly after arriving at the University of Georgia, Sial started a laboratory to begin work on the spotted wing drosophila. He has applied successfully for regional and national grants and has focused on innovative management techniques for SWD. He has developed good relationships with the blueberry industry, so good that industry leaders gave him his own research farm in Georgia centrally located in the principal blueberry producing area of the state. He regularly releases results of his research through the many media outlets available to him, including social media, blogs, newsletters and news media.

In the summer of 2013, Dr. Mo Way at Texas A&M AgriLife detected a new aphid on grain sorghum. This year’s Pulling Together award winner, the Sugarcane Aphid Team, was formed to find answers to what was proving to be the biggest challenge the sorghum industry had ever faced.

As sorghum growers who had planted a late crop began to harvest, the late-arriving aphid had produced a honeydew so sticky that the plant would not pass through the harvest machines. Growers faced losses of over 50 percent. Although experts determined that the aphid was a member of the Melanaphis genus, they did not know the particular species. In November, several researchers, extension and communication personnel formed a Melanaphis task force to try to learn more about the new pest, develop management techniques for it and communicate the information to growers.

After performing insecticide trials, experts determined that the only insecticide that would work was one that was not labeled for sugarcane aphid. The team successfully requested EPA to grant the addition of sugarcane aphid on the Transform label. The team also developed new resistant breeds and researched the biology and ecology of the pest to find natural enemies and develop action thresholds. A website and a blog kept the public informed of aphid movement and included treatment recommendations. According to the Texas Sorghum Association, the work of the team prevented an estimated $165 million in losses in 2014 and another $100 million in losses in 2015.

Dr. Norman Leppla, this year’s IPM Lifetime Achievement Award winner, has been a true leader in IPM during his more than 40-year career. His experience spans from the land grant university to USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, where he established the Biological Control Institute to provide leadership for biological control. After retiring from USDA, he returned to the university system at the University of Florida, establishing a new plant doctor degree and incorporating biological control into the Florida IPM program. After the Regional IPM Centers were established in 2000, and the Southern IPM Center became housed at North Carolina State University in 2003, Leppla involved himself in the program, not only as an Advisory Council member but also as a grant recipient.

Leppla’s state IPM program has been one of the leading IPM programs in the country. He has introduced some innovative IPM solutions to many of Florida’s pest problems, including a biological control solution—complete with a mechanical planter—for invasive mole crickets. His finding of a specific nematode that would control the crickets led to the commercialization of a biological control product, which has saved cattlemen $13.6 million annually.

“Dr. Leppla has been an effective, tireless advocate for IPM and for increasing adoption in agriculture and communities in the South, nationally and internationally,” writes Thomas Green in a support letter. “Dr. Leppla’s assistance with IPM in University of Florida housing led to publication of a guide to IPM for university housing which has been distributed to hundreds of institutions nationally and has stimulated development of new IPM programs.”

Most of the award recipients will be receiving their awards at regional meetings during the next couple of months. I hope others will join the Center in congratulating this year’s cadre of Friends of Southern IPM award winners.

The Southern IPM Center Friends of Southern IPM Award is made possible by the USDA NIFA Crop Protection and Pest Management Regional Coordination program under agreement 2014-70006-22485.

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