Scaling Up the Use of Trap Crops for Insect Control in Mechanized Squash Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $7,039.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:


  • Vegetables: cucurbits


  • Pest Management: trap crops

    Proposal summary:

    Blue Hubbard squash has been noted in small plots to attract and concentrate squash insects, resulting in ease of control and low feeding rates on surrounding squash species and reduced insecticide applications to maintain vegetable yield and quality. This project is designed to determine if this non-replicated small plot effect can be effectively scaled up for use in 2-4 acre size commercial plantings in Missouri.


    My customer demand is growing for squash. This is an expensive crop to produce because of intense insect pressure such as spotted cucumber beetles and squash bug. The crop requires multiple insecticide applications and I must leave travel lanes specifically to drive application equipment. This reduces the production acreage by 15% due to the limits of my spray booms. The acreage I can irrigate is limited and I need all available square footage.


    In addition, there is growing customer concern about local based vegetable production and the use of crop protectants. This is a future business risk dilemma that I am looking to this project to address. I am looking to evaluate this small farm sustainable technology with a full crop trial of Dr. Pinero’s concept of “Behaviorally-Based Insect Pest Management.” By conducting this full scale I will be able to determine if this practice allows me to eliminate applicator travel lanes, reduce insecticide use, maintain quality, and is economically feasible for this size farm.


    I have not been able to find published work on field placement of trap crops other than perimeter. My research design would gather replicated data using three treatments: two-sided perimeter planting of Blue Hubbard, a control of no Blue Hubbard, and planting near the center of the plot with a small number (25) of Blue Hubbard. The field will be 120' by 600' (1.6 acres). The plots will be 50’ by 120’. This allows four replications.


    A scout will be trained by extension specialist to record insects found using a sweep net system. The distance from the trap crop plants will be recorded as part of each scouting session. Based on advice from Dr. Pinero, scouting will need to be done twice a week to comply with standard vegetable IPM recommended practices. As there will be a spring and fall planting, the scout will need to be used twice a week for 28 total weeks.


    Because of the intense data collection (distance from trap crop and counts) in such a large planting, I will be using yellow sticky strips as part of the IPM scouting. There is a wide range of extension based information on the use of sticky strips to predict insecticide applications, but not that I could find on squash. This extra data collection has the potential to give more field data to the sweep technique and simplify time necessary for future scouting—if the data analysis confirms any correlation of numbers on the sticky strips to sweeps and ET thresholds recommended for squash.


    Data will be collected twice a week in each of the 12 treatment plots.   An FFA student will be hired and trained to assist in data collection. I also plan to make use of Dr. Pinero, Lincoln University, and MU Extension regional specialists to assist with treatment layouts, seeding, data collection, statistical analysis and economic evaluation.


    This study will determine: 1) the extent of the “sphere of control” by Blue Hubbard as a trap crop, 2) if I can reduce insecticide use (with all that entails), 3) if I can increase production acreage (eliminate travel lane for applicator), and 4) alleviate customers concerns about insecticide use in my squash production.


    A two year effort is needed to confirm the viability of the sustainable concept. As the spring pest pressure can differ considerably from fall production insect pressure, I feel it is necessary to research both time periods. I read that two years of data is the norm for confirming statistically valid cause and effect in farming systems.



    Dr. Jamie Pinero, State IPM Specialist, Lincoln University held in-service education training called “Fostering Adoption of IPM by Vegetable Farmers in Missouri” this summer. One of the training topics was “Using Behaviorally-Based Insect Pest Management.” Dr. Pinero demonstrated the value of using a trap crop plant species as a lure to prevent feeding on more desirable crop species. His preliminary fieldwork demonstrated on a small scale that Blue Hubbard squash attracted and concentrated squash insects resulting in 1) concentrated populations for ease of control, 2) zero to low feeding rates on surrounding squash species, and 3) fewer entire field insecticide applications to maintain plant health and vegetable quality. However, this was a very small sized research plot. My question is can this non-replicated small plot effect be effective in larger plantings in Missouri, such as my farm?


    It is important in larger acreage plantings to discover the “sphere of control” this trap crop can protect. I propose using Blue Hubbard squash as a trap crop in a 1.6 acres spring and fall planting of squash. The project design will vary the location and number of Blue Hubbard plants in the planting to determine the area of crop protected. By using plot replication and twice weekly scouting to gather insect numbers over an entire growing season, I will be able to evaluate and define the area of control Blue Hubbard plants exert in a large field setting. This in turn will provide data to determine if this sustainable IPM practice will reduce the use of insecticide, maintain production volumes/quality and allow me to remain profitable as I continue to move into a more sustainable production system. This is a proposal for two years.


    In Pinero’s presentation he cites previous A.Cavanagh et al, “Using Trap Crops for Control of Acalymma vittatum (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) Reduces Insecticide Use in Butternut Squash.” I have researched the concepts outlined and the extension research literature. The extension services in Connecticut, New Jersey (Rutgers) and Vermont have published some very interesting preliminary work on trap crops. However, the cited work is targeting very small plots and the use of perimeter plantings on four sides of the crop. I have been unable to find published articles with recommendations of placement of trap crop other than four sided perimeter solid plantings. This type of planting in my farming operation is not practical as it would further reduce my crop planting acreage, not lend itself to my application equipment size for applying insecticide only on the trap crop, and reduce my income. Please keep in mind that the while the use of Blue Hubbard varieties as a trap crop is well documented, it is not an in-demand species by customers.   I have talked to other growers and the market for Blue Hubbard is almost nonexistent in Eastern Missouri (my target market area).


    I have approached MU and LU Extension specialists to assist in a field day. I will also present information gathered at the Great Plains Vegetable Conference in St. Joseph Missouri, Lincoln University Vegetable Field Day, the Montgomery County Soils & Crops Conference, and the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference held each year in Columbia Missouri.

    I am also working with Dr. Jamie Pinero, Lincoln University Extension’s Vegetable Entomology Specialist; Rich Hoormann, MUEXT Agronomist; Charles Ellis, MUEXT Ag and Natural Resources Engineer, and Ken Bolt, MUEXT Agricultural Business Specialist


    Insect counts will be taken during the growing season beginning at squash emergence. Counts will be taken at row intervals from the trap crop plantings (60” row spacing) for the useful picking life of the spring and fall planting. The expected maximum is 14 weeks from seeding of each cropping season. Counts using sweep net techniques and yellow sticky strips will be taken and logged.


    Data collected is from a randomized complete block design (4 replications) and will be statistically analyzed by Rich Hoormann. He will also conduct a geo-referenced statistical analysis to determine the “sphere of control” of trap crop plantings.


    Business Specialist, Ken Bolte, will help with the economic analysis. The cost analysis is the key to determining if a trap crop is economically viable for my sized acreage and mechanization.


    I see the potential for this project data to be useful in both small and mechanized size vegetable farms. The information can reduce pesticide use, consumer concerns about pesticides, reduce production cost, and even reduce my exposure to pesticides.


    I interact with many vegetable farmers in the area and we share information freely on how to increase profitability by better utilization of resources. The data generated will give an economic analysis of using trap crops as part of sustainable vegetable growing system.

    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.