Tag Archives: pest management

Less weeding, more feeding

Michael Flessner

Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science Michael Flessner is helping Virginia farmers by investigating how to control weeds before they become a problem at harvest.

Soybeans are a major crop in both Virginia and North Carolina, but money spent on weed control is choking out about $40 million of profits per year for farmers in each state.
A collaborative grant between Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University seeks to eradicate weeds such as Italian ryegrass, wild radish, common ragweed, and Palmer amaranth that are common to both states. The grant money is being focused on environmentally friendly ways to control weeds that won’t contribute to herbicide resistance.

“Herbicide resistance prevalent in our region is just shy of doubling the weed control costs of production,” said Michael Flessner, assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science and Extension specialist. “This is a way to not only combat the weeds, but to also keep the problem from becoming worse,” said Flessner.

Flessner estimates it costs farmers in the region an additional $60 to $100 per acre to hand-pull the weed Palmer amaranth in infested fields.

He is working in conjunction with Wes Everman, assistant professor of crop science at North Carolina State University, to research the effects of destroying the seed by crushing it at harvest or by carrying away the postharvest residue, thereby taking the seeds out of the cropping system before they become a problem in the field.

Research at the University of Arkansas is already showing promise using these methodologies. One study reduced the time required to hand-pull weeds from 205 man-hours to six man-hours over a period of just two years.

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History provides backdrop for pesticide training

An instructor shows how to use a pesticide sprayer.

An instructor provides participants with a demonstration of advanced sprayer technology that uses pulse modulation to prevent pesticide spray drift.

Though the Virginia Tech Pesticide Program was established in 1964, Virginia’s history of pesticide safety education goes back to the late 1800s. Today the Virginia Cooperative Extension program trains pesticide applicators by blending history with modern safety measures.

VTPP trains more than 20,000 agricultural producers and pest managers in 27 different certification categories of private and commercial pesticide application during a reoccurring four-year cycle.

In Virginia, private and commercial pesticide applicators must be certified using a 14-point core curriculum. The training is based on a 300-page core manual that’s approved by its partner, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

VTPP also offers 22 commercial applicator training manuals, training aids, online training, and onsite instruction led by local Extension agents. Through a train-the-trainer workshop held every September, VTPP provides agents with the most up-to-date information about pesticide application technology, regulations, and safety.

“Agents are the key educators in the program,” said Mike Weaver, program director. “They provide training in more than 100 localities and host or support over 200 workshops annually. The program wouldn’t work without their dedication, talent, and hard work.”

Weaver often shares Virginia’s rich history in pesticide education during pesticide safety education workshops.

Researcher Shawn Askew shows participants weeds and grass.

Shawn Askew, turfgrass Extension specialist, presents weed identification and management information to Extension agents and turfgrass industry professionals.

For example, in 1889 William Bradford Alwood went to an Albermarle Fruit and Grape Growers meeting and warned members about the use of arsenic and other poisons on their crops. In 1892 Alwood and Walker Bowman, Virginia’s first pesticide residue chemist, addressed the public’s fear of pesticide residue on grapes by testing them and finding them safe to eat. These two men became the first pesticide safety educators in the commonwealth. Sharing this information sparks the interest of trainees and shows the significance of pesticide safety education over the years.

Another creative use of history was VTPP’s revival of Larry the Label. Larry the Label was a cartoon used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and national Cooperative Extension Service for public service announcements from the 1950s through   the 1970s to warn the public to read pesticide labels.

In July 2014, VTPP launched Larry the Label Jr. on Facebook to once again teach the public about pesticide safety and protecting human and environmental health.

As regulations change over time, keeping people and the environment safe from the misuse of pesticides continues to be the focus of VTPP and Virginia Cooperative Extension.

“We do what we do because it’s required, but also because it’s the right thing to do,” Weaver said.

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