Expanding Texas’ integrated pest management teachings

Written by Blair Fannin

Pest management outreach to both rural and urban audiences in Texas will be expanded and improved thanks to a federal grant awarded to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

A tractor spraying a crop.
A federal grant awarded to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will expand and improve pest management outreach to both rural and urban audiences.

The funding will help integrated pest management, IPM, experts educate thousands of Texas farmers about the latest pest management technologies and teach urban audiences about pollinator-friendly plants that promote bee and butterfly conservation.

The $812,348 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture will support improvements in educational programming to meet the demands of the diverse state.

“This grant will certainly allow us to enhance our current integrated pest management program statewide and make these efforts much bigger and more far-reaching,” said David Kerns, Ph.D., integrated pest management coordinator and AgriLife Extension entomologist, Bryan-College Station.

The USDA-NIFA Crop Protection and Pest Management Program, CPPM, supports projects that will increase food security and respond effectively to other major societal challenges with comprehensive IPM approaches that are economically viable, ecologically prudent and safe for human health. The CPPM program addresses pest management challenges with new and emerging technologies. The outcomes of the CPPM program are effective, affordable and environmentally sound IPM practices and strategies supporting more vital communities.

This aligns with Texas A&M AgriLife’s efforts to identify potential methods to reduce pesticide use and associated risks in urban landscapes using IPM principles. Main focus areas for IPM in communities include:

  • Management of tawny crazy ant and red imported fire ant.
  • Garden pollinator promotion and conservation.
  • Integrated pest management of crape myrtle bark scale.

Enhancing statewide outreach, crop detection efforts

The grant will help train pesticide applicators and introduce new Bacillus thuringiensis traits and other crop technologies. Bt are bacterial genes that are genetically engineered into cotton and other crops to control common pests.

“This really changes how we will manage those pests in cotton with the new Bt technology,” Kerns said.

Use of corn sentinel plots will serve as an early detection system for Bt resistance, Kerns said. Utilizing different corn Bt technologies, corn earworm Bt resistance will be monitored to determine which Bt technologies sustain pest damage. The corn earworm survival in Bt corn will provide an early warning to cotton producers where bollworm is a serious pest.  

General programming will also cover sugarcane aphid management in sorghum. Kerns said educational training utilizing biological control agents will help farmers thwart potential pests such as head worms and determine best timing applications during the growing season.

Expanding digital outreach, education in communities

Throughout four regions of Texas, Kerns said integrated pest management audio updates are being provided to farmers, consultants and agriculture industry representatives with weekly bulletins on crop and pest conditions. Farmers opt in with their mobile phone number and receive a weekly text message with a link to AgriLife Extension audio updates. So far, during the first full year, the service is reaching 337 subscribers.

“And we also will be adding material to the AgriLife Learn platform,” Kerns said. “We already have learning modules for beekeeping and for new landowners wanting to learn how to start a beekeeping business and receive an exemption. Other efforts include pesticide use in schools and rodent control.”

The grant will also help fund potential new positions and support current AgriLife Extension IPM specialists and agents statewide.

Improving the bottom line for Texans

Kerns said improved integrated pest management in communities will address invasive ant management as well as pollinator and butterfly conservation.

“If you are going to treat for a pest, you need to select the appropriate pesticide that will minimize impact on beneficial insects,” Kerns said. “For those who don’t know, there are targeted insecticides that you need to know how to use. If you are spraying for a pest in roses, there is no need to spray other flowers with no pests. Doing so will accomplish nothing but possibly eliminate good bugs.”

Ultimately, the integrated pest management funding will benefit not only producers and their bottom line, but also help protect the environment through pollinator and conservation practices, Kerns said.