IPM keeps food on our table–at a price we can afford

I read a blog article today written by one of the Southwest Farm Press editors, resolving to eat more doughnuts in 2018. The editor, Shelley Huguley, discussed how one of America’s favorite treats was in jeopardy because of a pest insect that attacks sugarcane, the sugarcane borer. Although I didn’t come up with the idea to discuss the idea of pest management in terms of the products that we love, I know a great idea when I see one, so I decided to take her idea and run with it to talk about our own contributions to America’s products.

Keeping products in our homes is just one of the benefits for good pest management. With so many insects and diseases that can adapt to a single pest management technique, such as a particular pesticide, scientists have to get creative to make sure farmers and others who need to manage pests can do it at a cost that won’t break America’s banks.

Take the cost of vanilla, for instance. In the last year, it has nearly tripled. I used to buy vanilla from Costco for $8.00. After worker demands in Madagascar, the price jumped to $11.00, and now it’s at $24.00. Why is it so expensive? Vanilla is one of the most labor-intensive crops because it’s made with the seeds of an orchid. Because native pollinators don’t exist in Madagascar, and the plant doesn’t self-pollinate, workers need to hand pollinate the crop.

Fortunately, scientists in the southern region are developing guidelines for beekeepers and for farmers to make sure that both the imported honeybee and native bees are protected. For crops like blueberries, apples, onions, cocoa and even coffee (see a complete list here), pollinating insects are vital to fruit production. Imagine what life would be like without our cup of Joe in the morning! Also imagine what that cup would cost if it weren’t for scientists working on ways to protect pollinators.

Just last year we funded a project that will help keep pecans on your table during the holidays. Bacterial leaf scorch is a chronic disease that attacks pecan trees and can affect the star of one of the South’s favorite pies. Thanks to a group of researchers at Texas A&M AgriLife, a novel use of nanotubes may help rid trees of the disease by heating up the tree by its roots to a temperature that will kill the bacteria.

Molly Stedfast applies diatomaceous earth to the baseboards

Molly Stedfast applies diatomaceous earth to the baseboards for bed bugs

If you live in an apartment or have stayed in a hotel, you may be familiar with the issue of bed bugs. Bed bugs have attained the media spotlight for a few years and are near the top of the list of the most hated pest. Fear not, however, as researchers at the University of Tennessee are compiling resources for efficient ways of inspections in multifamily housing.

Soy products aren’t just for vegetarians anymore. If you start reading labels, you’ll realize that soy is part of some of the beauty products we use, candles we burn and snacks that we eat. An insect called the soybean looper causes millions of dollars in losses to soybean crops every year, and the pest adapts genetically as it migrates along the eastern seaboard. Scientists in North Carolina want to learn more about the genetics of the looper to ensure that the right control method is being used with the right species.

What would pizza or spaghetti be without a good marinara sauce? However, a tiny insect known as a whitefly is damaging tomatoes in the Southeast. Fortunately, researchers in Florida have been looking at biological control options for the whitefly, as certain species are becoming resistant to pesticides.

Are you one of those drivers who seeks out a good, shady parking space in the summer? Did you know that the trees that are usually planted around parking lots are assaulted by tiny armored insects called scales? After several years of research, North Carolina horticultural scientists now have a formula that city planners can use to decide where to plant those trees to make sure that they give shopping center customers shade for years.

And going back to those doughnuts? I’m personally glad that a group of scientists in South Carolina are refining an already robust app to help strawberry growers identify problems with their crops, as now I won’t have to bite into a jelly doughnut that doesn’t have any jelly.

So even though I may not plan to eat more doughnuts this year, I am thankful that IPM scientists throughout the South are coming up with unique ideas that will keep the products that I buy in the store, at a price I’ll be able to afford.

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