Patricia Lucas, 2011 Friends of IPM Award Winner
IPM Implementer

Patty LucasInsect pheromone traps dot the fields at the University of Kentucky’s Princeton and Lexington farms and the University of Tennessee’s Jackson and Milan stations. The traps catch a variety of adult wheat, corn and forage pests, including armyworm, corn borer and corn earworm. Moths caught in the traps provide the field crops industry with the answer to an important question: when do I need to scout or check my crop?

At the same time, University specialists who were counting populations in the traps asked another important question: are growers and consultants using this information?

The latter question prompted a survey in 2008, conducted at the end of a year-long project funded by a USDA Regional IPM grant. The grant funded the formation of an Insect Trapping Network for Kentucky and Tennessee.

Monitoring insect populations through traps in Kentucky and Tennessee is a long standing technology. The Trapping Network added a couple of components to an already-successful trapping system: a change in the method of communication with the public and direct coordination with another state.

Dr. Doug Johnson, UK Extension Entomologist and Ms. Patty Lucas, UK Extension IPM Specialist and project co-director along with Dr. Russ Patrick, UT Extension Entomologist, used the data from the trap catches to alert local growers about high pest populations. While most growers scouted their own fields for the same pests targeted by the traps, those growers said that the trap population reports in the Kentucky Pest News newsletter, e-mails and news stories and the graphic display on the UK IPM web pages, saved about 2 ½ hours of scouting time per situation, during the season, simply because they knew when to begin looking for certain pests.

The test of the system’s utility happened in 2006, when Kentucky suffered a major armyworm infestation. In April, specialists noticed a spike in trap captures—much higher than in previous years. This adult moth flight produced a caterpillar population in May when growers faced an intense battle with armyworm. The infestation and resulting crop damage provided University specialists with valuable information: they now had a known outbreak situation that resulted from the moth flight data., and they realized that their communication to growers needed more support.

“After that, we could tell what a huge outbreak looked like,” said Lucas. “Since then, we have been able to predict when there was a high potential for damage based on the trap counts.”

The 2007 grant gave them the financial resources to reinforce the trapping system with additional traps and to begin a communication system. Lucas and Doug Johnson, IPM Coordinator and project co-director, conducted several workshops. Two were held for Kentucky county Extension Agents, two more were presented to members of the Kentucky Agricultural Chemical Dealers Association, and Dr. Patrick gave several presentations at county-based meetings in Tennessee. The workshops caught the interest of several of the growers in Kentucky.

“We had as many local people show up to the trainings as county agents,” Lucas said.

In addition to the trainings, Lucas and Johnson used print and electronic communication methods. Johnson and Lucas printed potential damage alerts in Kentucky Pest News newsletter and e-mailed alerts to county Extension Agents. Some of those alerts even appeared in the local newspapers.

But were growers and their crop advisors using the information in those alerts?

Yes, according to a survey conducted in February-March of 2007. Of the certified crop advisors who answered the survey, 74 percent said they had seen or used the alerts, and 68 percent said they used the information to scout for a specific pest.

In addition, after the season was over, the project team conducted another survey and found that 31 percent of certified crop advisors said that the information alerted them to completely unrelated problems they would have missed had then not been in the field.

In 2008 the Network faced a test; armyworm populations again were high enough to cause significant damage to crops. This time, specialists were ready, and the information saved corn growers from a potential $50,000 loss. The alerts also traveled across state and national lines; Extension Specialists at the University of Illinois, Purdue, the Ohio State University and in Canada issued warnings in response to Kentucky’s alerts.

In time, Lucas predicts that the Network will save growers money in reduced pesticide treatments.

“The Trapping Network gives them a way that the growers can be more efficient with their time, and it gives them a little bit of warning that they need to look for something,” said Lucas. “They have time to make a decision about what they should spray, and when they need to spray, so they need to spray only once.”