Using cultivar mixtures to improve pest control and grain crop production

2012 Annual Report for LNE12-320

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $164,919.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:

Using cultivar mixtures to improve pest control and grain crop production


Our project just got underway in Fall 2012—our project involves winter wheat, which established in October 2012—so we do not have much to report yet. See below for details.

Recent ecological research and our preliminary data indicate that intraspecific genetic diversity can be quite valuable for suppressing pest populations and improving primary productivity. Unfortunately, most fields planted with modern crop varieties harbor very little genetic diversity. Our integrated research and education project will demonstrate the pest-management potential of genotypically diverse cultivar mixtures to better resist populations of plant pathogens, insect herbivores, and even weeds to improve crop productivity. Moreover, because cultivar mixtures tend to improve yield over monocultures even in absence of pests, our work will also demonstrate general improvements in crop productivity by increasing genotypic diversity. Using field experiments at two research centers and farms of three cooperating growers, we will demonstrate and quantify production benefits of planting fields containing several different varieties of wheat. At all these sites, we will compare insect, pathogen, and weed populations and yield among cultivar mixtures and the constituent monocultures.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Performance Target:
Thirty conventional and organic farmers will adopt mixtures on at least 300 acres (ten acres per grower) of small grains to decrease insect, disease, and weed problems and improve production. By employing mixtures, growers will increase yield at least 5% compared to typical monoculture yield monocultures, meaning yield increases per acre will range between 2.5 bushels per acre for organic growers that typically yield 50 bu/acre to 4 bu/acre for conventional growers who average 80 bu/acre. Conventional growers will also reduce pesticides costs by $20 per acre, which represents nearly 50% savings on a typical preventative pesticide program that costs approximately $37 per acre, further improving profitability.

This is the first milestone and is currently in progress:
1. Through winter meetings (in-person and webinars) and summer field days, 1500 farmers will be exposed to the idea of cultivar mixtures and learn of the yield and pest management benefits of mixing cultivars together. These farmers will receive evaluations to capture the state of their knowledge before and after presentations, and their interest in learning more about farming with cultivar mixtures. Growers with interest will be asked for their contact information (November 2012-March 2013 & November 2013-March 2014).


The milestone listed above is being addressed during the coming winter extension meeting season. We have lined up about 15 extension meetings so far and are confident we will achieve our goals.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Our research plots have been deployed across farms of three farmer collaborators (Mertztown and Holtwood, PA, and Clear Spring, MD) and two Penn State research farms (Centre and Lancaster Counties, PA). Our farmer cooperators were quite enthusiastic for the work and asked many questions. After we established the plots or wheat in October, we visited each field to scout for aphid and other insect pest species. Very few insect pests were found, which is good news for our growers.
We have encountered no hurdles to implementing our project thus far; all looks good!


Dr. John Tooker

[email protected]
Assistant Professor
Penn State University
Dept. of Entomology
501 ASI Bldg
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148657082