Advancing the Frontier of Pest Management
Mites and disease attack our pollinators, parasites infest our livestock, insects eat our crops, and weeds compete with crops for nutrients and sunlight. Every year, for example, agricultural pests damage or destroy more than 30 percent of crops worldwide, a number that has remained constant since the 1940s, despite widespread use of agrichemicals.
Pests develop resistance, overcoming the most potent single-tactic solutions. That's why SARE has long-focused on exploring a combination of ecologically based measures that manage rather than outright control pests. Such an approach necessarily considers the farm as a whole system, leading many farmers to redesign operations to capitalize on nature's own solutions. Today, thousands of farmers successfully combat pests with a toolbox of strategies: crop rotation, a variety of cover crops and forages, and better detection, to name a few.
As pests continually adapt to and resist our best efforts, SARE will also adapt its approaches, funding research that seeks successful, multi-faceted, systems solutions.
Consider the corn rootworm, which has side-stepped every single-tactic solution ever developed. The multi-faceted approach has had more success. For example, an early SARE project in Minnesota explored the use of conservation tillage, manures and crop rotation. Not only was rootworm reduced, but also erosion, nitrogen leaching and weeds.
Hundreds of growers in the South adopted SARE-funded researchers' recommendations for pest-plagued cotton: conservation tillage, cover crops and various seeding tactics. The result: fewer pesticide applications, and also fewer earworms and budworms, and less erosion. Only yields - and profits - increased.
Many New England farmers have adopted a perimeter trap cropping strategy recommended by a SARE-funded researcher who tested the theory during two seasons - with terrific results. A Connecticut farmer planted squash around his cucumber field, sprayed minimally, and in the next years, harvested a bounty.
In Montana, a SARE project integrated sheep into wheat/alfalfa systems, which yielded multiple benefits: suppressed wheat stem sawfly, alfalfa weevil - and weeds. At the same time, ranchers gained a profitable commodity, lamb, which could be raised on low-cost and otherwise unused crop residues.
Getting the Word Out
In addition to countless SARE-funded field days and trainings, SARE has published several practical guides and handbooks, including Manage Insects on Your Farm and a 20-page bulletin, A Whole-Farm Approach to Managing Pests.
|Tom Terrill (left) and Will Getz, researchers from Fort Valley State University, use the FAMACHA technique to better identify goats infected with parasites. This allows for more targeted use of deworming agents. |
Photo by Jerry DeWitt
A Toolbox of Innovations to Control Small Ruminant Parasites
The growing ranks of ethnic groups across the South have spurred a sudden demand for specialty meats, particularly goat and sheep. Sales have been brisk. A wrench in the works, however, threatens the new businesses: widespread invasion of Haemonchus contortus, or barber pole worm.
The blood sucking parasite lodges in the animals' intestines, causing anemia, bottle jaw and eventually death if left untreated. Overuse of chemical dewormers has greatly increased the worms' resistance, making them almost impossible to control. One female can lay more than 5,000 eggs per day.
Thanks to funding from SARE, the Southern Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control (SCSRPC) was formed to research and educate farmers on alternative parasite control.
The consortium's scientist, veterinarian and extension members developed a toolbox of affordable techniques that dramatically reduced the need for costly and increasingly ineffective chemical deworming agents.
A diagnostic tool called famacha is one of the consortium's important findings. The tool is a chart that matches eyelid color to anemia levels, an indicator of parasite infection. This allows farmers to target treatment only to infected animals, which in some systems has reduced use of deworming agents by 90 percent.
FAMACHA has become the standard in detection and costs only $10 for a card printed with the chart. According to Thomas H. Terrill of Fort Valley State University, one of the founders and current coordinator of the consortium, more than half of the charts - about 11,000 - have been sold in the United States. "It's an indication of how big a problem it is in the U.S.," says Terrill. "The farmers were desperate and it's a cheap, simple tool."
Linda Coffey, a goat farmer and specialist, says FAMACHA has had a great impact. "It reduces dewormer use, thus saving money, and it slows down resistance problems. Just as important, it allows the farmer to select breeding stock that is not anemic. That strengthens the flock over time."
Feeding copper oxide wire particles to parasitized animals is another promising method. Although reasons are unclear, this reduces infection rates in lambs and kids up to 90 percent.
Terrill is focusing on sericea lespedeza, a forage containing high amounts of tannins, which dramatically reduce parasites in many types of livestock. Terrill's project is one of a handful of SARE-funded research projects investigating the forage, including projects on an Ohio farm and at Louisiana State University. Another SARE project at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore is exploring high-tannin grain sorghum to control parasites.
Terrill says there is no silver bullet for parasite control. "It's a combination of tools. So we are moving into the next phase of trying to figure out the right anti-parasitic formula for each farm." [For more information, go to www.sare.org/projects and search for LS02-143 (SCSRPS), LNE05-232 (UMES), GS07-059 and GS05-047 (LSU), and FNC05-564 (Ohio).]