Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘Russ Groves’

Combating the Colorado Potato Beetle—The Master of Adaptability

Blog 13

Anyone who has tried to grow their own tasty potatoes has probably run into the ravages of the dreaded ‘potato bug,’ which often devours your potato vines before your tubers even had a chance! This black and yellow striped adult beetle (and its brick red, hump-backed young) is actually the Colorado potato beetle. It originated in Mexico and was innocuously living on buffalo burr plant in the arid prairies of the Western United States when early settlers introduced a new miracle food to the area—the cultivated potato. These beetles just loved this new nutritious food that settlers were now planting for them, and they adapted fast and began multiplying at astonishing rates, spreading eastward and devouring potatoes wherever they found them.  They even managed to cross the Atlantic and became the scourge of potato growers across Europe and Asia! This potato-eating machine quickly became the number one insect potato pest worldwide.

There are many reasons that account for the beetle’s continuing success and longevity as a pest, including their perfect synchrony with the potato ecosystem and the lack of natural enemies to keep them in check.  Their greatest achievement, however, has been their uncanny ability to develop immunity to every kind of insecticide that has been used to control them.  This ability dates back to the very early days; they were the first insect pests to be subjected to widespread and systematic applications of synthetic insecticides—nothing else could prevent total crop loss. This approach worked initially, but success was fleeting as the beetles quickly developed ways to biologically overcome the effectiveness of these crude sprays—just the beginning for the master of adaptability. Since then, the beetle has been able to resist more than 50 different insecticides representing virtually every mode of action that scientists have been able to devise, rendering some ineffective in as little as a year or two!  At times, it became so difficult to find an insecticide that still worked that potato growers commonly resorted to burning them off plants with propane and then vacuuming them from plants with huge motorized ‘bug-vacs!’   (more…)

IPM – Continuously improving the way we manage pests on our potatoes!

Blog 12Integrated Pest Management – or IPM for short – sounds big and combative, but in reality, it is a basic concept that has become a part of the fabric of agriculture that helps farmers limit pest populations (insects, weeds and diseases) and prevent pests from creating havoc in our crops without relying completely on chemical pesticides.  In the world of potatoes, Wisconsin growers were early pioneers of biologically-based IPM and are recognized nationally for their adoption of advanced approaches for managing pests in their crops.

What is IPM and how is it done?  As it’s name implies, IPM integrates a wide range of tactics that hold pest populations below damaging levels. These can range from biological and cultural approaches at the local level to regionally-based systems that predict and geographically track pest locations and numbers.  It is a basic approach where you get to know everything there is to know about your crop’s pests – where do they come from and when, how do they behave and why, what are their vulnerabilities – and then determine which practices can be best used to exploit these pests and prevent them from entering their crop or causing damage after they do. IPM integrates basic practices such as moving crops in the landscape to make them harder to find, scouting to determine which pests are where, physical barriers to foil entry, tillage and smother crops to limit weeds and predicting pest development with more advanced practices, such as varietal resistance, advanced technologies to diagnose problems quickly and accurately, and using ecologically based processes and geo-referencing to track populations across broad regions. All of these fit under the IPM umbrella, and pesticides are used only when necessary to prevent damage.   (more…)

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