Biocontrol with Benefits: Enhancing Sustainability by Adding Value

Project Overview

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:


  • Fruits: apricots, cherries, peaches, plums


  • Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management

    Proposal 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 proposed project builds and expands 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 will be conducted using a multidisciplinary systems approach encompassing fields of entomology, plant pathology, nematology, horticulture and economics. The studies will be implemented in peach orchards and will be 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 impact on pest status, plant health and economic potential will be assessed. A comprehensive extension program will be implemented. Given our previous research and preliminary results we anticipate a highly positive outcome in developing sustainable agricultural systems in peaches through the adoption of entomopathogenic nematodes as a biocontrol approach. Results will also be applicable to other borers in other cropping systems.

    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 from proposal:

    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.

    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.