Biocontrol with Benefits: Enhancing Sustainability by Adding Value

Final report for LS18-298

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2018: $260,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: Southeastern Fruit and Tree Nut Research Laboratory, USDA-ARS
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information

Abstract:

Implementation of a targeted biocontrol strategy that positively impacts other aspects of the orchard system (such as overall plant health and suppression of plant diseases/plant-parasitic nematodes) could be a powerful approach in establishing sustainable orchard practices. The  project built and expanded upon a previously funded Southern SARE grant focused on peach orchard systems. Peachtree borer, Synanthedon exitiosa, is a major pest of peaches and other stone fruit trees in the Southeast and throughout the USA. Currently, methods of control for peachtree borer focus on the use of broad spectrum chemical insecticides, primarily chlorpyrifos. Due to severe environmental and regulatory concerns alternative methods of control must be developed and their impact on cropping system assessed. In our previous research we discovered that the entomopathogenic nematode (aka beneficial nematode), Steinernema carpocapsae, can provide the same level of peachtree borer control as chemical insecticide standards such as chlorpyrifos. The nematodes can be applied effectively as preventative agents in the late summer or fall and in a curative approach during the spring, whereas chlorpyrifos is only effective in a preventative application. Despite this success, grower adoption in using nematodes for peachtree borer control has been limited due to a cost differential; entomopathogenic nematodes cost approximately $15 per acre ($37 per hectare), whereas chemicals like chlorpyrifos may cost as low as $5 to $10 per acre ($12 to $25 per hectare).

The use of entomopathogenic nematodes would be more attractive if the approach provided other benefits to the growers. Preliminary and prior research indicates that entomopathogenic nematodes targeting peachtree borer may also affect root-feeding weevils, plant-parasitic nematodes, and the devastating plant pathogenic fungus, Armillaria tabescens; thus, the goal of this project is to investigate additional benefits that entomopathogenic nematodes can provide against these important pest and disease challenges. If significant benefits are realized in controlling any or all of these targets (plant- parasitic nematodes, root-feeding weevils and pathogenic fungi) this will add substantially to the efficacy and attractiveness of biocontrol approach. Research was conducted using a multidisciplinary systems approach encompassing fields of entomology, plant pathology, nematology, horticulture and economics. The studies were in cooperation with large conventional peach farmers as well as an organic peach grower. We have strong grower support for the project, one of the largest peach growers in Georgia wrote, "I'd be happy to cooperate, collaborate, or even collude with you on this grant. I think you are on the right track exploring other possible benefits and look forward to working with you." 

Overall our results indicated clearly that applications of beneficial entomopathogenic nematodes consistently reduce peachtree borer populations as well or better than chemical insecticides. We observed that lower rates of nematodes could be used to control peachtree borer (as low as 300,000 nematodes per tree). Moreover, we observed additional benefits of beneficial nematode application including the control of root-feeding weevils in peach orchards. 

The purpose of this project is to facilitate the implementation of biocontrol in Southeastern peach insect pest management systems. Specifically, we will expedite the implementation of a biocontrol approach by leveraging additional benefits that may be garnered within the peach system. It is important to recognize that agricultural inputs do not act in isolation; interrelationships among biotic and abiotic agents abound. We will utilize these interrelationships to enhance sustainability.

Project Objectives:

The overall goal is to enhance the biocontrol utility of entomopathogenic nematodes when targeting peachtree borer by leveraging additional benefits provided to the system.

Based on prior research we have evidence that application of entomopathogenic nematodes within a peach system could contribute to suppression of plant-parasitic nematodes, root-feeding weevils, and fungal diseases such as A. tabescens.

Therefore our specific objectives are to assess the impact of entomopathogenic nematodes when applied for peachtree borer control on:

  1. Peachtree borer infestations.
  2. Plant-parasitic nematodes.
  3. Various root-feeding weevils found in peaches.
  4. The fungal disease Armillaria root rot, A. tabescens.

Additionally, a comprehensive Outreach and Evaluation plan will be implemented to extend the results of this project and determine the impact.

Research

Materials and methods:

Beneficial nematodes were applied to 3 farms. Subsequently, the impact of these biocontrol agents were assessed based on control of peachtree borer (the main target) as well as other benefits including control of root weevils and plant parasitic nematodes. 

Research results and discussion:

We observed consistently that the beneficial nematode, Steinernema carpocapsae, controls peachtree borer as well or better than chemical insecticides. This was demonstrated on commercial farms (:Lane's Southern Orchards and Minter's farm) as well as the USDA-ARS Research Farm in Byron, GA.

Rates of 300,000 to 1 million nematodes per tree are highly effective causing >90% control of peachtree borer.  

A gel (such as Barricade) can be used in lieu of irrigation to keep the nematodes moist while they kill the target pest. 

When applying beneficial nematodes for control of peachtree borer, a secondary benefit is that root-feeding weevil populations (that harm the root system of peach trees) will also be suppressed. 

Participation Summary
5 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
2 On-farm demonstrations
2 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Other educational activities: 1 Presentation to growers at the 2020 Southeastern Fruit and Vegetable Conference, Savannah GA (January 10-11, 2020).
1 Presentation to the Mid-Georgia Peach Update, Byron, GA (January 11, 2021).
1 Symposium Presentation at the SE Branch meeting of the Entomological Society of America (March 24, 2021).

Participation Summary:

60 Farmers
30 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We are still producing output and expect 1-2 refereed papers and perhaps an extension bulletin. 

So far, two non-refereed articles have been produced:

  1. Shapiro-Ilan, D.I., B. Blaauw, Chavez, D., Duncan, L. 2018. Biocontrol with benefits: Enhancing sustainability by adding value. Sustainable Agriculture at UGA Newsletter. Fall 2018, pp. 3-4.
  2. Shapiro-Ilan, D. I., Cottrell, T. E., and Mizell, R. F. III, Olmstead, M. A, Pinero, J.C. 2018. Control of the peachtree borer and lesser peachtree borer using beneficial nematodes. Healthy Fruit Volume 26 (9), pp. 20-28.

Learning Outcomes

10 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

 

This is still evolving. 

We established the benefits of applying entomopathogenic nematodes for control of peachtree borer in peach systems.

Growers are initiating adoption. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.