Understanding the potential for biological control and pest management in industrial hemp cropping systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $14,994.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Sara Hermann
The Pennsylvania State University


  • Agronomic: hemp


  • Crop Production: varieties and cultivars
  • Pest Management: biological control, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, other

    Proposal abstract:

    The recent reintroduction of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) as a crop for food, grain, oil and fiber in Pennsylvania has provided an opportunity for farmers to expand their operations to include this high-value commodity. While projected benefits from the National Hemp Association for job creation, rural economic growth and annual financial gains are impressive, there is much we need to know about this crop to ensure its success in the Pennsylvania farmscape. In particular, insect pests are of global concern in agriculture, contributing to significant crop losses annually. Due to the novelty of this crop and the strict regulations on pesticidal inputs, it becomes fundamentally important to provide information about insect pests that could contribute to crop losses. These losses can be caused both directly, through pests consuming plants, and indirectly by contributing to disease transmission and altering plant metabolites which could affect yield and profitability. Finally, we must also understand the extent to which native biological control agents (predatory arthropods and parasitoids) act to regulate pest insects.  To increase our basic understanding of the system and contribute to the development of sustainable control strategies, this project will: 1) Determine the composition of insect pests and biological control agents throughout the crop growing cycle; 2) Evaluate the impact of insect pests on plant defensive metabolites and yield; and 3) Evaluate the efficacy of biological control agents on pest management. Together, this work will provide information that supports decision-making and the development of sustainable control strategies in industrial hemp.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Determine the composition of insect pests and biological control agents throughout the crop growing cycle in Pennsylvania.

    Essential to our success in developing integrated pest management strategies in novel cropping systems is our understanding of the organisms that interact with the crop plant. I will determine not only what pest species are common on industrial hemp plants, but also what biological control agents (predators and parasitoids) utilize these plants to find prey resources on three commonly grown hemp cultivars (cv. Joey, Henola and Bialobrzeskie). In doing this, we can start to build a pest management framework that catalogs our pests throughout the growing period and the potential for biological control to mitigate their damage. Importantly, this will fill an immense knowledge gap that exists in the Northeastern region.


    1. Evaluate the impact of insect pests on plant defensive metabolites in three industrial hemp cultivars.

    Insect pests can contribute to dramatic plant defoliation in cropping systems, leading to crop loss. I will evaluate the damage that common pests on industrial hemp cause and assess how feeding by herbivorous pests might affect plant defenses, which could contribute to crop loss through increased plant metabolites that are federally regulated (THC, Tetrahydrocannabinol). The federal government strictly regulated the level of THC in industrial hemp to a level below 0.03% and testing crop plants is required of farmers before harvest. If plants exhibit THC levels > 0.03%, then the entire crop must be destroyed as it is then considered a Schedule 1 Drug. Understanding which pests induce high levels of THC at which phenological stages is essential for farmers so they can avoid devastating loss of income and livelihood. By understanding these dynamics, we can begin to forecast and predict when THC levels might increase based on pests present in the system, the cultivar of hemp being grown, and the time of season.


    1. Evaluate the efficacy of biological control agents on pest management.

    The value of beneficial biological control agents can contribute tremendously to pest management. Because pesticidal input is limited in industrial hemp, I will assess the efficacy of common biological control agents in reducing populations of target pests identified in Objective 1. We can use this information to conserve or augment biological control agents in hemp farms to achieve pest control.

    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.