Vegetable production is growing in Virginia and nationwide, with an increased emphasis on locally grown food. However, not all growers, especially those who are new to the field, know how to control the pests that attack their crops. Many of the insecticides that have been used in the past can have damaging health and environmental effects, not to mention the harm they do to other beneficial insects.
To respond to these needs, the Vegetable Pest Management Research Program provides research and education in order to find better solutions.
“Pest management has never been more important than it is today,” said Thomas Kuhar, Virginia Tech entomology professor and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist.
The program identifies which pest problems are the most pressing, such as the brown marmorated stink bug, and finds alternative ways to control them. Kuhar and other researchers and Extension agents use this research to educate growers and the public.
“We deliver this information to growers in the state through a number of avenues. There are several field day meetings that go on in the Shenandoah Valley, Eastern Shore, Northern Neck, Richmond area, and the southwestern part of Virginia,” Kuhar said. “We also update the pest management guides that the growers can get each year that advise them on how to manage pests.”
The program’s work has made a marked difference on vegetable production in the commonwealth, giving Virginia an advantage over other states. For example, growers nationwide have been struggling with the Colorado beetle, an invasive species that wreaks havoc on potatoes. In many states, the beetles have developed resistance to certain insecticides, making them even harder to control.
“By educating growers and evaluating different tools that manage the insect in Virginia, our growers have not had insecticide-resistance problems of that insect; therefore, our potato growers have been able to effectively and economically provide control of that difficult pest,” Kuhar said.
In the coming years, the program will be developing sound integrated pest management plans for the most important pests in Virginia. By spreading awareness and education, the program directly helps the farmers and, therefore, the commonwealth at large.
“The impact is that the growers are more knowledgeable and can provide better and more environmentally sound control of the pests that attack their crops,” said Kuhar.