Mid-South Entomologist Working Group, 2011 Friends of IPM Award Winner
Pulling Together

Mid-South EntomologistsIn 2005, a group of entomologists from four mid-southern states gathered to address a problem that was plaguing cotton farmers. The tarnished plant bug was quickly replacing the boll weevil as a major pest of cotton, and growers were relying on outdated thresholds by which to time their treatments. Because tarnished plant bug had been a minor pest during the boll weevil era and was managed with the same pesticides that controlled the boll weevil, tarnished plant bug thresholds had not been revised since the 1980s. In addition, each state has its own threshold, so growers in Mississippi were using a different standard from their neighbors in Louisiana. The group of entomologists decided that establishing thresholds for tarnished plant bug would be their first project.

“The tarnished plant bug was the catalyst to working as a cohesive group,” says Scott Stewart, Tennessee IPM Coordinator and extension entomologist with the University of Tennessee.

On January 5, during the Cotton Beltwide Conference, the group received the 2011 Southern Friends of IPM Pulling Together award from the Southern Region IPM Center. The Pulling Together award is an annual award given to a group that has “pulled together” people from many states and disciplines to accomplish a common goal. The Mid-South Entomologist Working Group has done that very successfully.

The Mid-South Entomologist group began in the mid-1980s to discuss how some of the pest “disasters” that were plaguing growers in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee. Although the boll weevil was beginning to diminish in importance, other cotton pests were beginning to rise, some causing as much damage as the boll weevil. One of them, Heliothis virescens, the tobacco budworm, was becoming a particular menace, as it was developing resistance to many of the insecticides traditionally used to control them.

Using their own funding, the group meets regularly to compare research and extension initiatives and update each other on new findings. Gus Lorenz and Scott Akin, extension entomologists from the University of Arkansas, turned to researchers B. Rogers Leonard from Louisiana State University and Jeff Gore and Don Cook from Mississippi State University. University faculty turned to federal researchers Ryan Jackson and Gordon Snodgrass from USDA Agricultural Research Service. The group gathers in a remote, retreat-like location in Casscoe, Arkansas so they can openly discuss the issues and talk frankly about insect management problems.

“As you can imagine, with a group of entomologists there are always differences in opinions and how to deal with problems,” says Lorenz. “But it’s sort of like the “what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas situation. Discussions can often become heated and we may have differences in opinion on some issues, but we realize that if we work as a team, we can work our way through those differences, let the research speak and maintain a unified front for our clientele.”

“There weren’t many opportunities for scientists across states to talk about pests,” says Leonard. “This meeting is conducted using our own funding. We thought enough about our growers and the importance of these issues to think it was going to pay off.”

In 2005, the relationships they had formed did indeed pay off. The tarnished plant bug turned the group’s discussion into a plan of action.

“This formed the catalyst to carry out the research and develop an educational program to help our clientele,” says Lorenz.

The tarnished plant bug entered the group’s radar when each entomologist began fielding questions from crop consultants. Many wondered about thresholds, which had not been revised since the 1980s. Others asked about scouting and trapping methods. Angus Cachot, extension entomologist at Mississippi State University, said that these questions spurred the group to find answers.

“We knew these problems were common to the mid-South,” Cachot says.

Cotton, Inc. funded much of the research on the pest. By the end of the project, the group had developed a common threshold and sampling system for tarnished plant bug. (read the full story about this project in the Spring 2010 issue online). With a consistent threshold and standard sampling program across state lines, growers and consultants felt more secure about timing their treatments.

Besides gaining the faith of growers and consultants, the Mid-South Entomologists had developed a template for future projects The acceptance by growers and consultants of this regional threshold and sampling program has been phenomenal.

“We’ve taken this same model to a lot of other projects,” says Stewart. “We’ve used it to establish thresholds for multiple pests on soybean and corn as well.”

In 2007 the group gained a new member: Dr. Kelly Tindall, a research entomologist from the University of Missouri. Because her primary responsibilities involve research, she turns to Stewart and Lorenz to get a feel for what faces growers in the field. Stewart and Lorenz depend on Tindall to provide leadership in developing research to solve insect management problems and provide data for educational programs and training.

“Everybody’s helping everybody, and we’re all working together,” Lorenz says.

Currently the group is working on several new projects, including an evaluation of thresholds on soybeans for several economic pests and evaluation of insecticidal and nematicidal seed treatments in cotton and soybean.

Members of the Mid-South Entomologist Working Group include:

University of Arkansas
Dr. Gus Lorenz
Dr. Scott Akin
Dr. Glenn Studebaker

Mississippi State University
Dr. Fred Musser
Dr. Angus Catchot
Dr. Don Cook
Dr. Jeff Gore

University of Tennessee
Dr. Scott Stewart

Louisiana State University
Dr. B. Rogers Leonard

University of Missouri
Dr. Kelly Tindall

USDA-ARS, Stoneville, MS
Dr. Ryan Jackson
Dr. Gordon Snodgrass