GENEVA — Two Cornell affiliated worm wranglers have received Excellence in Integrated Pest Management awards from the New York State IPM Program.

Elson Shields, a Cornell entomology professor, and Mike Hunter, a field crops specialist in the Cornell Cooperative Extension North CountryRegional Ag Team, received the awards at Cornell University’s Aurora Farm Field Day on the Musgrave Research Farm.

NYSIPM develops sustainable ways to manage pests and helps people to use methods that minimize environmental, health and economic risks. The award honors individuals who encourage the adoption of IPM in their businesses, schools, communities, and farms, and who develop new tools and tactics for sharing these practices.

The alfalfa snout beetle, an invasive pest, is a perennial threat to north country alfalfa. In the absence of any registered insecticides for this pest, growers are forced to only use cultural and biological controls. Shields found success protecting alfalfa from the snout beetle with the use of native entomopathogenic nematodes. Nematodes are tiny worms that parasitize and eventually kill the beetle larvae, and stay in the soil to infect future generations of the pest. Shields pioneered the use of nematodes that persist in the soil, and has been able to control snout beetles as long as six years after a single application of nematodes.

Shields has taught growers to rear the nematodes and to apply them to their own crops. Shields is also exploring ways to use these beneficial nematodes to protect specialty crops. He works with agribusiness consultants in the private sector and other researchers in the public sector. His effective strategy with persistent nematodes has been featured in trade journals such as Growing Produce, Good Fruit Grower and Dairy Herd Management. He received an Entomological Foundation Award for Excellence in IPM in 2013, and his promotion of persistent entomopathogenic nematodes is being widely adopted.

By studying the persistence of nematodes applied to alfalfa through a crop rotation that included several years of corn, Shields observed that entomopathogenic nematodes were also helping to control the corn rootworm, on their vacation time from alfalfa. Through collaborations with horticultural researchers, Shields is working on applying persistent entomopathogenic nematodes as biological controls in crops such as strawberry, cranberry, sweet potato and turf. He is also studying the potential for using these techniques on greenhouse ornamentals.

Hunter was supposed to receive the award in January at the crop congress meeting in Watertown but dangerous snowstorms delayed the presentation. He has served the farming communities of Jefferson and Lewis counties for over 17 years as a field crops specialist.

His personal experience on his family’s farm and in the private sector of agricultural business has inspired his passion for practical crop production and pest management solutions. He is considered an expert on weed management and the Western Bean Cutworm, an insect that recently invaded the North Country, and has spent years monitoring the pest and giving talks about it here and in Canada.

In 2017, Hunter was one of the first people in New York to encounter a population of Western Bean Cutworms that were resistant to the CryF1 toxin that is incorporated into genetically modified corn. The cutworms are the larvae of a Noctuid moth notorious for causing significant yield and quality losses to corn and dry beans — the cutworm made its debut here in the Empire State in 2009.

Hunter has collected data from pheromone trapping and field scouting, and made IPM recommendations for farmers suffering with the Western Bean Cutworm.

In his role helping farmers with their crops, Hunter has also been a champion of using native beneficial nematodes as a biological control for the alfalfa snout beetle, an invasive pest that causes much concern for farmers in the north country. Hunter has researched the feasibility of applying entomopathogenic nematodes to the soil via liquid manure — an application method that many farmers are excited to embrace.

Learn more about Integrated Pest Management at nysipm.cornell.edu.

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