Northern New York — The tide has turned in the battle vs. alfalfa snout beetle (ASB) in Northern New York.
Cornell entomologist Dr. Elson Shields and the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP) have posted the definitive guide to raising and applying native biocontrol nematodes (microscopic worms) to control the destructive ASB online.
More than 13 percent (500,000 acres/9 counties) of New York farmland has been infested by ASB.
Surveys funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program show ASB present in all six NNY counties: Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence.
ASB is also found in Cayuga, Wayne and Oswego counties, and southeastern Ontario, Canada. The flightless insect spreads by traveling on trucks and farm equipment and can be transported by flowing water when the beetles ball up into groups of 30-40 and float with the current.
ASB-related damage can be as high as $1,100-$1,500 for a second- or third-year crop left untreated. ASB can destroy entire fields of alfalfa, a valuable dairy and livestock feedsource, in one growing season.
Working with NNY farmers, Shields and Cornell Research Support Specialist Antonio Testa built an extensive knowledge base and developed new research methods to create the easily-implemented on-farm protocol that uses two species of native insect-attacking nematodes that work at varying soil depths to naturally destroy the ASB larvae.
Testa says, “The nematodes naturally recycle within the alfalfa snout beetle as host, persist in the soil, and effectively self-disperse creating the opportunity for long-term control across treated fields.”
The Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) associations of Northern New York now offer ASB control training to growers across the region. In Lewis County, CCE Field Crops Educator Joe Lawrence says, “The on-farm research conducted here in Northern New York has produced a cost-effective on-farm biological control solution.”
In St. Lawrence County, CCE Ag Issue Leader Brent Buchanan agrees, “The use of native nematodes as a biological, chemical-free solution is a most attractive control method for the agricultural industry here.”
At Hilltop Dairy in Lowville, Bernhard Gohlert says, “We are very pleased with the results on our farm. Using the nematodes is an effective and inexpensive method for controlling alfalfa snout beetle. The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program research paid off with a solution for protecting a highly valuable crop.”
In Franklin County, CCE Agricultural Outreach Educator Harry Fefee says, “We have alfalfa snout beetle in Franklin County, perhaps more than people realize. The farmers who have already tried the nematodes here and in Clinton County prefer to treat an entire field and say you can really see the difference in the quality of the crop.”
The nematodes can also be applied in small plots or strips. Testa says they will spread in the soil or within infected insects before they die, advancing by approximately 5 feet per year. Soil movement by farm tillage equipment can spread the nematodes much faster through a field.
FFA students and farm youth were engaged in the early on-farm evaluation of the nematode rearing and application protocol. Farmers have easily adapted existing equipment to apply the nematodes.
“We see the potential of rearing nematodes for sale by our 4-H students and local horticultural businesses,” Buchanan says. “There is already interest here by a custom applicator/seed dealer in the commercial production of nematodes.”
A joint project with the Cornell Alfalfa Breeding Team under the guidance of Dr. Donald R. Viands and Dr. Julie L. Hansen with the Shields’ Lab is selectively breeding ASB-resistant alfalfa varieties to work in tandem with the biocontrol nematodes.
At least one Cornell-bred ASB-resistant alfalfa variety is in the early stages of commercial seed production. Hansen says she expects to field test that seed in Northern New York at Sheland Farms in Belleville in 2013.
Research on the persistence of the nematodes over a several-year crop rotation is continuing with support from the New York Farm Viability Institute and the Cornell University Experiment Station.
The typical crop rotation is four to five years of alfalfa and four years of corn before the field is returned to alfalfa production. Researchers and farmers want to know if the nematodes will persist at sufficiently high enough levels to protect the subsequent alfalfa crops after four years of corn production.
“We are also looking at the possibility of teaching farmers to bioassay soil samples from a field known to have nematodes to identify and collect infective juvenile nematodes to inoculate bait cups to support on-farm field treatment from start to finish,” Testa says.
Find more information online at www.asb.org.