A team of researchers from Michigan State University has received a $325,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to examine the effectiveness and cost of new blueberry pest management approaches.

The project is led by Rufus Isaacs, a professor in the Department of Entomology, and also includes Marisol Quintanilla, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology; Matthew Gammans, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics; and MSU Extension educator Carlos Garcia-Salazar.

Over the past several years, Isaacs said researchers have gained a better understanding of how to control primary insect pests affecting blueberry farms, including gall wasp and spotted wing drosophila.

These new techniques involve host-plant resistance, biological control, regular field sampling and more targeted pesticide applications, each aimed at helping growers save money and improve environmental and worker safety while effectively mitigating pest damage.

“We are evaluating integrated pest management (IPM) programs and comparing the return on investment,” Isaacs said. “We expect that scouting and degree-day models will give us more information on how to target management to areas of need and inform on the best timing for crop protection.”

Commercial blueberry farms will partner with the team to host the research, giving them a chance to see on-farm results from the work. Researchers will also assess other pest controls such as mulching and pruning, which have been shown in small-scale trials to reduce the amount of pest infestation. Isaacs said the methods will be examined in larger field-scale trials, where benefits may be even larger.

Quintanilla, an expert in nematology, will lead a biological control test with three species of nematodes and a fungus species. There will be a special focus on entomopathogenic nematodes — which parasitize insects — to control pests that have part of their lifecycle in the soil, such as spotted wing drosophila and cranberry fruit worm.

“Members of my lab are very excited for this project,” Quintanilla said. “It is a truly integrated approach, and we expect that it will be of great benefit to blueberry growers.” For each of the tested control tactics, Gammans will examine effectiveness and cost to determine return on investment.

“We hope the data and analysis this project generates will help Michigan blueberry growers pick a pest management strategy that really works for their farm,” Gammans said. “There probably won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution, so measuring the costs and benefits of different IPM approaches — and understanding how these are affected by the type of farm someone is operating — is going to be really important.”

Garcia-Salazar will build on his previous efforts with Isaacs to deliver information to Michigan blueberry growers, including development of Spanish-language program materials.

“Building grower trust in recommendations from our team is important, and transparency with IPM program success and cost is part of that,” Isaacs said. “I am looking forward to working with Dr. Quintanilla on exploring the potential for nematodes to control some of our key pests. Dr. Gammans’ work in on-farm decision making and the economic consequences of it is a critical part of gaining that buy-in from growers, and Dr. Garcia-Salazar will help us implement bilingual programming to ensure we reach more growers.”

For more information:
Michigan state University

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