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Integrated Pest Management

RAMP Funds High-tech Farming Tool to Predict Pests and Economic Impacts

The survival of modern agriculture is increasingly dependent on information technology. Timely, accurate information can improve production and profits, minimize environmental impacts and keep the American farm a vibrant enterprise. The Internet and modern computers provide the backbone for the delivery of new information tools to the agricultural sector. Increasingly, universities are teaming up with service companies to make these tools available. On example is a NIFA’ Risk Avoidance and Mitigation Program (RAMP)-funded collaboration between Pennsylvania State University’s Integrated Pest Management program, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and the Bellefonte, Pa. company ZedX, Inc.

Dennis Calvin, professor of entomology at Penn State, works in conjunction with ZedX on corn phenology models. ZedX, Inc. provides growers with site-specific weather predictions for their farms and orchards along with interpretive summaries to indicate historical and forecasted pest information based on the weather. Growers can format ZedX’s high-resolution weather data, crop data, satellite imagery and other data for various uses. ZedX can alert their users to pest information such as disease infection, times to scout for various insect pests, and the optimum control times several days before the actual events occur. Calvin helps ZedX link weather models with insect, diseases, and weed models that enable growers to time pesticide sprays and other management tactics. The use of such technology can be a part of a grower’s integrated pest management (IPM) program.

In addition, by using the models, Dr. Calvin and ZedX have been able to determine what economic impact bio- engineered crops such at BT corn have had nationwide. Currently, over 39 percent of the nation’s corn acreage is now Bt corn. A gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis is added to corn make a hybrid resistant to the European corn borer and other pests. The European corn borer, the targeted pest of Bt corn, costs U.S. corn growers more than $1 billion annually in yield loss and crop protection costs.

“Once the targeted pest ingests the tissue of the plant containing the Bt crystalline protein, the toxin acts on the gut lining of the insect to break down, killing the insect,” says Calvin.

Joe Russo, president of information technology at ZedX, Inc., says that by using 33 years of weather data they’ve collected, they can predict the economic value of Bt-corn hybrids with different maturities and planting dates for any geographic location in the United States.

“By looking at the weather-pest linked models, we can determine what effect pests, such as European corn borer, will have on a crop by determining the synchrony of key pest stages and sensitive plant stages. We can then calculate the per acre value of using Bt corn by looking at the average yield, market value and expected loss caused by each insect in the plant,” Russo explains.

The Bt Evaluation Tool is available as a free service to growers and kept up to date during the growing season.

For more information, visit the Penn State IPM Web site or contact Kristie Auman-Bauer.


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