Oct 5, 2021
Grants target major threats of pests, weeds to Virginia agriculture

A pair of grants awarded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to  Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension will help tackle two of agriculture’s greatest threats: pests and weeds.

A one-year, $210,000 grant will support the Virginia Extension Implementation Program, a project that will explore the use of integrated pest management, better known as IPM.

Daniel Frank, director of Virginia Tech Pesticide Programs, is the grant’s principal investigator.

“Major commodity sectors addressed in this project include both field and greenhouse/nursery crops, which when combined comprise nearly one-third of Virginia’s farm cash receipts,” Frank said. “Despite the value and growth of these and other commodity sectors, significant pest management challenges threaten the profitability and sustainability of Virginia agriculture. Problems with a diverse and ever-changing array of invasive and native pests pose a continuing challenge, and educational programs are needed to shift growers away from prophylactic use of pesticides and toward adoption of IPM.”

Activities planned for this fall surrounding the project include:

  • Creating a digital media library to support Extension programming.
  • Expanding current pest management guides into digital formats.
  • Showcasing IPM for the red imported fire ant.
  • Conducting on-farm demonstrations of IPM and pest management tools in agronomic and specialty crops.
  • Promoting pollinator health through the creation of Virginia Bee Cooperators.
  • Providing support for pest diagnostic facilities.

The second grant, at a total of almost $325,000, will support a farmer cooperative and on-farm research and Extension project called “Turning the Combine From a Weed Seed Spreader into a Weed Seed Predator.”

Michael Flessner, associate professor and Extension weed science specialist, is the grant’s principal investigator.

“In response to farmers’ needs and growing issues of herbicide resistance, my lab has been looking into managing weed seeds at harvest in Virginia for over five years,” Flessner said. “Our preliminary research into weed seed retention at crop harvest, modeling the weed seedbank, and preliminary on-farm research indicate that so-called harvest weed seed control holds tremendous potential for management of some of our most troublesome weeds in soybean and wheat. I’m excited to continue this research by examining state-of-the-art harvest weed seed control technology called seed impact mills.”

Over the next three years, Virginia Tech will be teaming up with researchers from Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, Texas A&M University, North Carolina State University, the University of Delaware, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, and the University of Arizona to examine how effective seed impact mills are at killing weeds seeds during harvest, how many weed seeds make it to the mill in commercial combines, and what the operating costs are to farmers.

“I greatly appreciate the support of this research effort to date from the Virginia Soybean and Small Grains Boards, an integrated, collaborative grant from the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech and NC State University, and USDA ARS Areawide Project Funds,” Flessner said.

– Mary Hardbarger, Virginia Tech University

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