Development of Above and Below Ground Strategies Using Entomopathogenic Fungi and RNAi Technologies for the Control of Root Crop Pests

Project Overview

Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2022: $199,710.00
Projected End Date: 03/28/2025
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Victor Izzo
University of Vermont


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes


  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Pest Management: biorational pesticides, integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Due to a short growing season, late season root crops (e.g., potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.) are particularly valuable in northeast diversified farming systems. Reduced yield and quality due to infestations by the common insect pests, Colorado potato beetle and wireworm, represents a serious risk for many farmers relying upon the late season revenue provided by these crops. Furthermore, sustainable low-impact options for the control of these pests on both organic and conventional farms are generally limited as most farmers rely heavily upon chemical controls. The high usage of chemical pesticides for the management of CPB and wireworms can significantly increase the risk of pesticide resistance. The development and assessment of novel pest management strategies, as proposed in this proposal, will provide valuable knowledge for the expansion of the currently available IPM toolbox for Northeastern potato growers.  

    This project will investigate two safe and eco-friendly approaches to reduce wireworm and CPB infestations in root crop plantings. The genesis of this project is the direct outcome of an ongoing participatory action research (PAR) process that currently engages ~30 growers in the Vermont and New York regions. During our recent PAR meetings and indicated via distributed surveys, it became apparent that growers (especially organic growers) are consistently looking to add new and novel techniques to reduce their dependence on the limited number of effective chemical controls (e.g. entrust, neonicotinoids etc.). To best address the growing need for low-impact biorational controls, this project looks to develop and test a benchtop/on-farm formulation of entomopathogenic fungi for the control of both wireworm and CPB. In addition, we will explore the efficacy of a commercially available RNAi product as a potential IPM tactic for conventional growers.  

     Entomopathogenic fungi Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium brunneum will be the primary species of fungi that will be cultured for our field trials. These species represent the most effective and easily cultured species of entomopathogenic fungi. For our benchtop formulations we will culture each fungus on commonly available grain substrates (e.g. Millet, barley, etc.). This will allow for the selection of the most cost-effective and efficient substrates for farmers looking to culture their own fungal soil applications.  

     We will utilize lab experiments, field trials and participatory evaluations to test the following hypotheses: a) grains inoculated with entomopathogenic fungi (I.e. benchtop culturing) will reduce wireworm pressure when applied as a soil application; b) foliar sprays of entomopathogenic fungi and commercially available RNAi will significantly reduce CPB pest pressure in potato; and c) training framers to cultivate their own fungal inoculated grain will significantly reduce the cost of control and expand the IPM toolbox for growers looking to reduce their chemical dependency. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Lab and field trials will be conducted to assess the efficacy of both cultured entomopathogenic fungi and RNAi technologies for the control of wireworms and Colorado potato beetle in root crops. This study will aid in the development of the essential knowledge and skills needed for the effective low-tech culturing of entomopathogenic fungi and subsequent field applications to control these pests. Data generated from RNAi trials will directly inform conventional potato growers of the best practices for utilizing RNAi technologies for CPB control. Both entomopathogenic fungi and RNAi applications will provide growers with innovative strategies to expand their IPM toolbox. 

    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.