Marvin Harris and Bill Ree, 2008 Friends of IPM Award Winners
IPM Educator

Texas AgriLife Research entomologist Marvin Harris spends his days studying ways to help pecan growers protect their crop from insects. Extension specialist Bill Ree shows growers how to use the tools provided by Harris’ research. Together they make the perfect team.

Harris’s constant pursuit of new information and Ree’s ability to excite growers to use that information earned the pair a 2008 Friends of Southern IPM Teacher Award.

“These scientists have epitomized the way that the Land Grant System was designed to operate to facilitate the development and delivery of information to stakeholders to benefit agriculture and society,” said Texas IPM Coordinator Tom Fuchs in his nomination letter. “Their work has provided widespread impacts throughout the Southern Region including new sampling plans, action thresholds, prediction models, identification of low impact pesticides and electronic delivery of educational information.”

The Southern Region IPM Center awarded Harris and Ree the Friends of IPM Teacher Award for proliferating pecan IPM in Texas through their education and training efforts. Associate Director Steve Toth presented the winners with the award at the annual Texas Pecan Growers Association meeting at the Woodlands July 13-16.

Harris and Ree came to Texas A&M from different parts of the country. Ree was an Extension specialist for row crops in Louisiana, while Harris was an entomologist trained at Cornell in New York State. They both came to Texas because of an interest in pecans.

“For me it was a challenge and an opportunity to work with a really neat crop,” Ree explains. “It has been an absolutely wonderful experience.”

Harris began his career at Texas A&M in 1972 by studying the pecan weevil. As he studied other pecan pests, he discovered that the nut feeders were particularly destructive, especially the pecan nut casebearer (PNC). Because the PNC was the pest that pecan growers dreaded most, Harris ( with Louisiana State University extension entomologist Dennis Ring and others ) developed an action threshold for treatment.

“We needed to develop a threshold so we could create prediction models to recommend treatment when needed but could also let growers know to avoid treatment when it wasn’t needed,” Harris says.

Much of their latest work has centered on the PNC, a pest of pecans that can quickly devastate an orchard and is very difficult to control. With the help of another Friends of IPM award winner, the late John Jackman, Harris and others in the Pecan IPM Team developed an online prediction model to help growers calculate the timing of treatment based on pheromone trap captures. The system contains a map that indicates where and when PNC has been found. Ree reminds growers that the map designates where and when growers need to scout for eggs and larvae, and counsels spraying only if needed.

“Everyone wants to know when to spray for PNC,” Ree says.

But spraying repeatedly made the pest problem worse. Growers would often have to spray at least two different insecticides because the pyrethroids killed the natural enemies of aphids and mites.

“When you think you have the problem solved, you find the bottom line is human behavior,” Harris says. “Even though you have a sustainable program, you don’t have a program until you have producer adoption. If producers aren’t adopting, you need to see why.”

Because scouting was so crucial to the success of an IPM program, Ree began a volunteer scouting network in 2002. He recruited growers, Extension agents and graduate students to comb through pecan orchards looking for PNC eggs. Some growers who had previously been spraying for PNC learned that they could be more conservative with their insecticide supply.

Ree remembered one grower who sprayed annually for PNC. When Ree scouted his orchard for PNC before the next scheduled treatment, he didn’t find any. The grower significantly reduced the number of spray treatments because he didn’t need to spray for PNC.

“He went from 8 to 10 insecticide sprays per year to 2 or 3,” Ree says. “He didn’t spray for PNC because he didn’t have any.”

As growers told their neighbors that the scouting was helping them save money on treatments without PNC infestations, word spread to counties not involved in the program. Before long, the network expanded to the entire state with help from EPA Region 6. This year, with new grants from USDA PIPE and the Southern Region IPM grant program, the network and pecankernel website will become belt-wide formats that involve and serve the industry over the entire country.

“The area-wide project through ipmPIPE is one where we can consolidate and coordinate information,” Harris says. “Down the road it will better serve producers.” This work will also involve S-1017 scientists in the Southern Region Pecan Insect group who share a long history of work in Pecan IPM at their respective CSREES institutions and producer organizations like Northern Nut Growers Association, Western Pecan Growers Association, Southeast Pecan Growers Association, Georgia Pecan Growers Association, Oklahoma Pecan Growers Association, Texas Pecan Growers Association and others across the pecan belt.

The combination of the online system and the volunteer network has saved growers thousands of dollars that would have been used for multiple sprays.

“Growers listen to us. We’ve shown that we’ve reduced pesticide use significantly,” Ree says. “We’re excited with the tool that we’ve got. We think we have an excellent program.”

Harris and Ree also note that getting to the present state has required the support, cooperation and input from scientists, producers and other pecan industry stakeholders belt-wide, and that future progress will depend even more on their leadership, expertise and support to be successful.