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Global Agriculture 

New research maps potential global spread of devastating papaya mealybug pest

   Delhi Bureau  1 Comment Biopesticides & BiocontrolsCABI  4 min read

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10 November 2020, UK: CABI scientists have mapped the potential global spread of the devastating papaya mealybug (Paracoccus marginatus), highlighting new areas in Africa, Asia and the Americas into which this pest could potentially invade.

Also Read: BASF commits to targets for boosting sustainable agriculture

The papaya mealybug, which is native to Mexico and Central America, can have severe impacts upon livelihoods and food security. In Ghana, for example, infestations led to a 65% yield loss which reduced export earnings and resulted in the loss of 1,700 jobs.

Using location data received through collaborations with Kerala Agricultural University, India; the National Rice Research Institute, India; the Bangladesh Agricultural UniversityUniversity of Queensland, Australia; the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); Fujan Agriculture and Forestry University in China and CSIRO, researchers were able to model the potential distribution of this pest, taking into account environmental conditions, and the distribution of suitable host crops and irrigation patterns.

The researchers, led by CABI’s Dr Elizabeth Finch, believe the polyphagous insect pest, which affects over 200 plants including economically important crops such as papaya, cassava and avocado, could spread to areas such as the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Cameroon, Zambia, Madagascar and western Ethiopia which are environmentally suitable and have suitable crop hosts.

In the Americas, the research, published in the journal Pest Management Science, suggests papaya mealybug could extend into El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama – although the scientists believe it could already be in these locations but its presence is yet to be confirmed.

Whilst papaya mealybug is already present in Florida, where it is under successful control as a result of the release of endoparasitoid wasp species – Acerophagus papayaeAnagyrus loeckiAnagyrus californicus – suitable conditions for this pest are also present in the southern tip of Texas.

Conditions are likely to be too cold in the rest of the USA for permanent papaya mealybug populations, however the research showed that seasonal populations could survive in California, along the Pacific coastline and in the central and eastern states of the USA during the warmer summer months.

Also Read: FMC Corporation Recognized at 2020 Crop Science Awards

In Asia, the areas with suitable conditions were more expansive than the areas with known populations of papaya mealybug, suggesting the potential for further expansion of papaya mealybug specifically in India, Southeast Asia and the southern regions of the Guangxi and Guangdong provinces of southern China.

However, in Australasia the risk is low as only a small amount of fragmented land along the north-eastern side of Queensland, from the very northern tip of Queensland to Bundaberg, is climatically suitable. This is due to heat stress from the high temperatures on the continent.

Similarly, in Europe – though due to cold rather than heat stress – widespread distribution of papaya mealybug is not expected, with only a very small area of land surrounding Seville in Spain and around Sicily in Italy having suitable conditions for resident populations.

Dr Finch said, “This pest has been so successful due to its quick development and prolific reproductive capacity. It has the potential to spread to new areas and rapidly reach high numbers unless suitable phytosanitary or control methods are implemented.

“Information about the papaya mealybug’s potential distribution is important as it can highlight key areas susceptible to invasion, giving an early warning to decision makers, allowing them to put into place phytosanitary measures to prevent or slow the invasion of the pest into their jurisdiction.”

Dr Finch added, “In areas where the papaya mealybug has become established and reached a high enough population density, the use of parasitoids – such as Acerophagus papayae and Anagyrus loecki – remains an effective potential control method.

“Further ecological niche modelling of these parasitoid species is recommended to anticipate their survival, fitness and ultimate biological control impact in areas into which papaya mealybug could potentially expand and become established.”

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Biopesticides and Biocontrols 

Could biocontrol solve the papaya mealybug problem for Ugandan farmers?

   Delhi Bureau  0 Comments CABI  4 min read

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14 September 2022, Uganda: Papaya mealybug, Paraccous margniatus, is native to Central America but has spread rapidly in invaded countries. It was detected in Uganda in 2021 where it has the potential to affect the production and quality of papaya and other host crops.

Typically, mealybugs are not pest problems in the countries they are native to because naturally occurring parasitoids and predators keep their numbers in check. The most serious outbreaks occur when mealybugs are introduced accidentally to new countries without natural enemies.

Papaya mealybug spread

The trade in live plant material, such as papaya fruits and seedlings, has accidentally accelerated the spread of papaya mealybug outside its native range. This pest threatens food and nutrition security and adversely affects the safe trade and competitiveness of the agricultural sector for many countries.

Without natural enemies to manage outbreaks, farmers often turn to pesticides. The lack of registered pesticides results in farmers using highly hazardous chemicals that are not only ineffective but can negatively impact native insect biodiversity such as pollinators and natural enemies of pests. A more ecologically sound approach to management is the use of biological control.

Rapid Rural Appraisal of papaya mealybug

As part of the PlantwisePlus programme, CABI in collaboration with the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO, Uganda), conducted a Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) of papaya mealybug in Uganda. The appraisal sought to gain an understanding of the presence, distribution, and impact of papaya mealybug in Uganda as well as farmers’ management practices. The evaluation also assessed farmers’ willingness to adopt and use biocontrol and their information requirements around biocontrol products.

Information from the appraisal will be used to design an integrated management strategy for papaya mealybug as well as help target community-level communications.

A major cash crop

The seventeen focus group discussions brought together papaya growers from four districts: North District (Lira), Central District (Kayunga, Luwero and Mukono). The districts captured a diversity of farming systems, agro-ecological zones, and agricultural potential. Papaya is a major cash crop for farmers in these districts, in addition to pineapple and traditional cash crops such as coffee. The average farmer cultivates the crop on 0.75-2.5 acres.

The participants confirmed papaya mealybug is already widespread in all four districts where it causes damage to several crops, not just papaya. Farmers started observing the pest between 2017 and 2019 with most saying it is a serious pest that can cause up to 100% crop loss. The official pest reporting to IPPC took place in 2021.

Papaya mealybug management

Farmers mainly attributed the papaya mealybug outbreaks to low productivity and poor-quality fruits. They observed that trees take longer to bear fruit and when they do, they only last one season compared to an average of 4 before. It was estimated that before the pest invaded, farmers obtained UGX 6-8 million/acre each season (£1,800), but currently only obtain UGX 1 million/acre each season (£230).

Regarding management options, commercial farmers reported using pesticides to deal with outbreaks. However, managing papaya mealybugs with pesticides is not always successful due to the pest’s waxy covering. In addition, misuse and/or improper use of these pesticides exacerbate pest problems by reducing beneficial organisms and natural enemies and negatively impacting biodiversity, human health and environmental safety. Further, some farmers don’t observe pre-harvest intervals, thus toxic substances are likely to enter the human food chain posing long-term health risks to consumers and the environment.

Sustainable options

Biological control represents a sustainable and effective management option, however, the farmers interviewed had mixed views on the method and the efficacy of the parasitoid in Uganda’s agroecologies. This highlights the importance of proper testing and community-level communications before the introduction of exotic natural enemies. Farmer and community engagement, and mass awareness are key in pest identification and management, especially with the promotion of unfamiliar pest management options. Extension in particular plays a vital role in the research and advancement of low-risk options.

However, one of the main takeaways from the appraisal was farmers’ papaya problems extend beyond papaya mealybug. Farmers reported other associated viral and bacterial diseases causing challenges, including bunchy top disease and leaf necrosis. As such, it is important that researchers assess the economic damage, effect and losses due to papaya mealybug and the associated pests and diseases before releasing biological control parasitoids.

Implementing a biocontrol programme

The PlantwisePlus programme is now looking at the activities required for the implementation of the biocontrol programme in Uganda. In particular, they are developing extension and farmer training manuals to cover papaya crop integrated pest management. These will include papaya mealybug as well as other pests affecting papaya production in the country. In addition, continuous community engagement and mass awareness campaigns will help farmers and their communities manage this highly destructive pest in a more sustainable way. 

PlantwisePlus is working to reduce the reliance on high-risk farm inputs that have adverse effects on human health and biodiversity. By implementing biological control programmes, PlantwisePlus is responding to the challenge and working to improve livelihoods through sustainable approaches to crop production.

Also Read: Tractor sale in India lowest in two months; 32 percent down in August 2022

(For Latest Agriculture News & Updates, follow Krishak Jagat on Google News)

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August 24, 2022 

Laura Hollis 

The life cycle of the African armyworm

The life cycle of the African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta) makes it an extremely destructive pest. It grows and reproduces quickly with just ten days between hatching and pupation.

African armyworms, also known as black armyworms, are the larvae of Spodoptera exempta moths. These destructive pests target pastures and cereal crops in parts of Africa, Asia, Australia, the Pacific, and Arabia. They are migratory and in plague years can severely damage crop yields.

The larvae cause the most damage to host plants, while the moths guarantee the swift spread of the pest. The feeding rate of African armyworm larvae increases rapidly as they develop over two to three weeks. Understanding the life cycle of the African armyworm is essential when deciding on management and control methods. The lifecycle includes egg, 5-6 growth stages of caterpillar development (instars), pupa, and moth.

The life cycle of the African armyworm

Day 1 – 2

Life cycle of the african armyworm
Spodoptera exempta moth laying its eggs on the underside of a leaf

A single female lays between 400 and 1300 eggs over her lifetime. Generally, moths lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves.

The moth covers the eggs in protective scales, rubbed off from its abdomen after laying. The scales protect the eggs from predators, dehydration, and natural enemies (predators). The moth lays eggs on both crops and pastures.

Day 2 – 6

Growth stages I-III

Life cycle of the african armyworm
Young caterpillars spinning silken threads

After hatching the young caterpillars feed superficially, usually on the undersides of leaves. Feeding results in semi-transparent patches on the leaves called windows.

Young caterpillars spin silken thread. The wind disperses these threads onto new host plants. Newly hatched caterpillars climb up the host plant and feed on the young stems and soft leaves.

Young caterpillars are green in colour with a black head. As the caterpillars grow, they change colour depending on whether it is solitary or gregarious. Solitary caterpillars remain green in colour.

Day 7 – 10

Growth stages IV-VII

Life cycle of the african armyworm
African armyworm feeding on a leaf

Caterpillars in the gregarious phase have a velvety black upper surface with white lines running along the sides. The head is shiny black with an inverted V-shaped mark while the underside is green or pale-yellow. All African armyworm caterpillars are hairless on the body.

The gregarious caterpillars at stages (IV-VI) are the most destructive to pasture and crops. They will feed on and damage leaves, growing points, and young stems. Feeding can result in total defoliation or destruction of the plant to ground level.

Day 10 – 14

African armyworm moth
Caterpillars burrow into the soil and form a cocoon. After 7 – 12 days the Spodoptera exempta moth emerges

After approximately 10-14 days the fully-grown caterpillar will seek soft damp soil, at the base of plants or sandy banks in which to burrow and pupate.

The caterpillar burrows 2-3 cm into the soil. They then form a loose silk oval shape cocoon 10-14 mm in length. If the soil is dry and too hard then the caterpillar will not be able to burrow and will die.

Approximately 7 – 12 days after forming a cocoon, the adult moth emerges from the soil to restart the cycle.

View the life cycle of the African armyworm

About the Plantwise Knowledge Bank

Find management, prevention and control advice for African armyworm and other crop pests and diseases in your region on the Plantwise Knowledge Bank. Simply search for a pest or crop and then filter the results by country.

The Plantwise Knowledge Bank is a free online resource that gathers plant health information from across the world. Over 15,000 pieces of content, which include pest management decision guides (PMDG), factsheets for farmers (PFFF), species pages, photosheets, manuals, and video factsheets in over 100 languages.

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African ArmywormBlack armywormSpodoptera exemptalife cycle

Agriculture and International Development

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Fall armyworms were a miss this year

ossyugioh/Getty Imageshands moving and inspecting corn plants for leaf damaged by fall armyworms

FROM THE FIELD: Damage to corn leaves in the field is a sign of fall armyworm infestation. The problem is the pest is becoming resistant to its most popular control mechanism — pyrethroids.

Research on mating disruptors may help offset growing pyrethroid resistance.

Mindy Ward | Aug 24, 2022

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Fall armyworm invasion. It is often a boom-or-bust cycle. This year was a bust, and that is good news for farmers. Still researchers know that will not always be the case, and they continue searching for ways to mitigate fall armyworm infestations, such as altering the pest’s behavior.

Last year was the biggest outbreak of fall armyworms across the U.S. in 30 years, said Kevin Rice, the former University of Missouri Extension entomologist who is now the director of the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Virginia Tech.

“We expect that fall armyworm outbreaks may occur more often because of our milder winters,” he explained during the MU Pest Management Field Day in July.

Fall armyworms typically only overwinter in the tip of Florida and in Texas. However, researchers find that now, because of milder winters, they are overwintering in higher latitudes, but their natural enemies are not. “So they get a jump-start; they get a higher overwintering population,” Rice said.

He said farmers should beware of potentially more fall armyworm outbreaks on a more regular basis than every 30 years.

Problems with resistance

Fall armyworm is one of the fastest growing insects on earth, Rice warned. “They’re called armyworms because they move into field and devastate it like an army,” he said.

Staying ahead of them once they appear can be difficult because the larvae have a wide host range of at least 80 plants, but they prefer grasses such as corn, sorghum, bermudagrass and tall fescue. They can also feed on alfalfa, barley, oats, ryegrass, vegetables and soybeans. Armyworms tend to move quickly into new areas in large numbers.

The good news with fall armyworm is there are integrated pest management tools for control. The bad news is the pest is becoming resistant to one of those measures — pyrethroids.

kochievmv/Getty Imagesfall army worm on a corn leaf

CLOSE UP: Fall armyworms feeds on corn, leaving behind a moist sawdust-like frass near the whorl and upper leaves of the plant.

Rice noted that several states neighboring Missouri reported pyrethroid-resistant fall armyworm populations. Since females fly over thousands of miles, he added, farmers can assume those resistant genes are being passed and mixing throughout the population in surrounding states. Therefore, farmers should not be using pyrethroids for treatment of fall armyworm infestations moving forward.

While Rice is taking that tool out of the pest management toolbox, his research lab is hoping to add another control means back in.

Search for solutions

Universities such as Mizzou are working on a new management option for fall armyworms using mating disruption.

High-emission-rate “mega-dispensers” are used for sex pheromone mating disruption of moth pests. These dispensers suppress mating and reduce crop damage when deployed at very low to moderate densities. “It confuses them, and often they don’t lay eggs,” Rice noted.

The research focuses on whether these mega-dispensers work on a per-acre basis and at what levels. It is still in the “very preliminary stage,” he said, but trials were set up in Alabama and Missouri this summer. “We’re quantifying it, to see if the process works.”

Rice said these types of behavioral mechanisms might be good, viable options in the future as the industry loses chemistries to fight the fall armyworm.

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omeCropsCotton Cotton gene-editing project aims to make plant more insect resistant

Cotton gene-editing project aims to make plant more insect resistant

Shelley E. Huguleybanner- swfp-shelley-huguley-eddie-eric-smith-jdcs770-20.jpg

Texas A&M AgriLife, USDA and Cotton Incorporated collaborate on the research project.

Farm Press Staff | Aug 24, 2022

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Aug 30, 2022 to Sep 01, 2022

Scieintists in the Texas A&M Department of Entomology have received a matching grant of almost $150,000 to conduct a three-year project to research novel pest management tools for cotton production. If successful, the project, Modifying Terpene Biosynthesis in Cotton to Enhance Insect Resistance Using a Transgene-free CRISPR/CAS9 Approach, could provide positive cost-benefit results that ripple through the economy and environment.

The project goal is to silence genes in cotton that produce monoterpenes, chemicals that produce an odor pest insects home in on, said Greg Sword, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist, Regents professor and Charles R. Parencia Endowed chair in the Department of Entomology. By removing odors that pests associate with a good place to feed and reproduce, scientists believe they can reduce infestations, which will in turn reduce pesticide use and improve profitability.

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Research to improve a plant’s ability to tolerate or resist pest insects and diseases via breeding programs is nothing new, Sword said. But editing genomes in plants and pest insects is a relatively new and rapidly advancing methodology.

swfp-shelley-huguley-sam-stanley-cotton-drip-22.jpgA gene-editing project aims to expose and exploit simple but key ecological interactions between plants and insects that could help protect the plant. This is Sam Stanley’s 2022 drip-irrigated cotton near Levelland, Texas. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

Sequencing genomes of interest and using the gene-editing tool CRISPR have become increasingly viable ways to identify and influence plant or animal characteristics. 

However, using gene-editing technology to remove a characteristic to make plants more resistant to pests is novel, Sword said. The research could be the genesis for a giant leap in new methodologies designed to protect plants from insects and other threats. 

Sword’s gene-editing project aims to expose and exploit simple but key ecological interactions between plants and insects that could help protect the plant.

“Insects are perpetually evolving resistance to whatever we throw at them,” Sword said. “So, it’s important that our tools continue to evolve.”

The matching grant is from both the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, NIFA, and the Cotton Board, a commodity group that represents thousands of growers across Texas and the U.S. The grant totals $294,000.

Critical seed funding 

Sword is collaborating with Anjel Helms, chemical ecologist and assistant professor in the Department of Entomology; Michael Thomson, AgriLife Research geneticist in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and the Crop Genome Editing Laboratory; and graduate student Mason Clark.

This research team is working on a project that was “seeded” by Cotton Incorporated, the industry’s not-for-profit company that supports research, marketing and promotion of cotton and cotton products.

The seed money allowed the AgriLife Research team to create a graduate position for Clark and produce preliminary data that laid the foundation for the NIFA grant proposal, Sword said. In addition, the terpene research is part of larger and parallel projects that began with direct support from Cotton Incorporated.    

“Cotton Incorporated’s support has been absolutely critical to jumpstart the project from the beginning,” he said. “From a scientific standpoint, industry support and collaboration are vital to project success, whether that’s leveraging money for research or identifying, focusing on and solving a problem, which actually helps producers.”

Industry collaborations strengthen the impact

Texas cotton production represents a $2.4 billion contribution to the state’s gross domestic product. From 2019 to 2021, Texas cotton producers averaged 6.2 million bales of cotton on 4.6 million harvested acres, generating $2.1 billion in production value. The Texas cotton industry supports more than 40,000 jobs statewide and $1.55 billion in annual labor income.

Research like Sword’s is augmented and sometimes directly funded by commodity groups representing producers and related industries.

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Projects supported by the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated run the gamut of production, including reducing plant water demands, increasing pest and disease resistance, and improving seed and fiber quality. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

Jeffrey W. Savell, vice chancellor and dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences, said collaborative projects help research dollars make the greatest impact for producers. Texas A&M AgriLife’s relationships with commodity groups that represent producers can jumpstart groundbreaking work and help established programs maintain forward momentum.

“Cotton Incorporated is one of our long-time partners, and that collaboration has made an enormous impact on individuals, farming operations, communities and the state,” Savell said. “This project is just one example of how we can do more by engaging with the producers we serve.”

The Cotton Board’s research investment

Bill Gillon, president and CEO of the Cotton Board, said projects supported by the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated have run the gamut of production, including reducing plant water demands, increasing pest and disease resistance, and improving seed and fiber quality.

Cotton Incorporated scientists typically identify a need or a vulnerability and create and prioritize topics for potential projects. These projects are developed in coordination with agricultural research programs that will either be directly funded by the group or could be submitted to funding agencies for competitive grants. The Cotton Board reviews project proposals and approves them for submission to NIFA for competitive grant dollars.

The Cotton Board’s Cotton Research and Promotion Program has generated more than $4 million in competitive cotton research grants from NIFA over the past three years, Gillon said. When coupled with $1.35 million from the Cotton Board, the program has generated $5.4 million in agricultural research funding for projects critical to improving productivity and sustainability for upland cotton growers in the U.S.

Gillon said funding-match grants represent a collaborative investment that maximizes financial support for science, ultimately impacting growers and local economies throughout Texas and the Cotton Belt.

swfp-shelley-huguley-21-cotton-harvest-sunset-vert.jpgPublic-private strategic support for research emphasizing sustainable practices across the agricultural spectrum has far-reaching benefits, says Phillip Kaufman, head of the Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

“We value our long-standing relationship with Texas A&M and other institutions across the Cotton Belt because the work would not be done without their expertise,” he said. “We certainly view this as a partnership and want to support their land-grant mission and help researchers maintain their capabilities, programs and labs that continue to produce results critical for cotton producers and agricultural production.” 

Industry buy-in 

Phillip Kaufman, head of the Department of Entomology, said an overarching goal for his department is addressing relevant topics or concerns, from public health to agricultural production. Whether research meets the immediate needs of producers or lays the foundation for breakthroughs in coming decades, many agricultural research projects’ relevance is guided by producer input.

Industry buy-in is critical to entomology research, he said. Topics relevant to commodities, in this case, cotton, and the public’s interest, in this case, NIFA, is a good representation of how the land-grant mission delivers for producers but can also ripple through communities, the economy and the environment.

Kaufman said public-private strategic support for research emphasizing sustainable practices across the agricultural spectrum has far-reaching benefits.

“This grant project is a good example of how cotton producers, the gins and other elements of their industry effectively tax themselves to fund campaigns and research that adds value to what they produce,” he said. “It also shows the motivation from a public dollar perspective to invest in research focused on providing pest control methods that reduce chemical use.”

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Science News

from research organizations


Study tracks plant pathogens in leafhoppers from natural areas

Date:August 2, 2022Source:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News BureauSummary:Phytoplasmas are bacteria that can invade the vascular tissues of plants, causing many different crop diseases. While most studies of phytoplasmas begin by examining plants showing disease symptoms, a new analysis focuses on the tiny insects that carry the infectious bacteria from plant to plant. By extracting and testing DNA from archival leafhopper specimens collected in natural areas, the study identified new phytoplasma strains and found new associations between leafhoppers and phytoplasmas known to harm crop plants.Share:

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Phytoplasmas are bacteria that can invade the vascular tissues of plants, causing many different crop diseases. While most studies of phytoplasmas begin by examining plants showing disease symptoms, a new analysis focuses on the tiny insects that carry the infectious bacteria from plant to plant. By extracting and testing DNA from archival leafhopper specimens collected in natural areas, the study identified new phytoplasma strains and found new associations between leafhoppers and phytoplasmas known to harm crop plants.

Reported in the journal Biology, the study is the first to look for phytoplasmas in insects from natural areas, said Illinois Natural History Survey postdoctoral researcher Valeria Trivellone, who led the research with INHS State Entomologist Christopher Dietrich. It also is the first to use a variety of molecular approaches to detect and identify phytoplasmas in leafhoppers.

“We compared traditional molecular techniques with next-generation sequencing approaches, and we found that the newer techniques outperformed the traditional ones,” Trivellone said. These methods will allow researchers to target more regions of the phytoplasma genomes to get a clearer picture of the different bacterial strains and how they damage plants, she said.

“One thing that is really novel about this study is that we’ve focused on the vectors of disease, on the leafhoppers, and not on the plants,” Dietrich said. The standard approach of looking for phytoplasmas in plants is much more labor-intensive, requiring that scientists extract the DNA from a plant that appears to be diseased and checking for phytoplasmas, he said.

“But even when you identify the phytoplasma, you don’t know what leafhopper or other vector transmitted it to the plant,” Dietrich said. “So researchers must go back out into the field to collect all potential insect vectors. Then they do transmission experiments, where they let the leafhoppers feed on an infected plant and then put them on an uninfected plant to see if it catches the disease.”

Because this research is laborious and slow, “we still don’t have a good idea of which insects are spreading most phytoplasmas between plants,” Dietrich said. “That really limits your ability to set up an effective management strategy.”

For the new study, the researchers turned to leafhopper specimens in the INHS insect collection. Dietrich had collected many of these insects over a period of 25 years as part of his work classifying their genetic relatedness and evolution. The researchers examined 407 leafhopper species collected around the world in areas less disturbed by human development. The specimens came from North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia.

The team extracted total DNA from the specimens and processed each one, using both traditional and newer sequencing approaches. The latter are less costly and more informative than traditional methods, the researchers report. Of the insects sampled, 41 tested positive for phytoplasmas, and the researchers obtained usable phytoplasma sequence data from 23 leafhoppers. The phytoplasmas included those that cause a disease known as aster yellows, which inhibits photosynthesis and reduces the productivity of several different crop plants. These phytoplasmas were found in several new species of leafhoppers never before identified as vectors of the disease.

“These leafhoppers may transmit the phytoplasmas to wild plants in natural areas,” Trivellone said.

The study found phytoplasmas in regions of the world where such diseases had not been reported and identified several new strains of bacteria. It also found previously unreported associations between some phytoplasmas and species of leafhopper.

Scientists have no tools to target the bacteria in asymptomatic plants to prevent disease outbreaks, so controlling phytoplasmas involves the use of pesticides to kill the insect vectors.

“Because the insecticides are only partially specific to the target insects, they kill a variety of beneficial insects as well, which is not sustainable,” Trivellone said.

“We’re finding that there are lots of new phytoplasmas out there in nature that nobody’s ever seen before,” Dietrich said. “They don’t cause disease symptoms in the native plants they’ve associated with for maybe millions of years. They only start causing disease when they jump to a new host that has not been exposed to the phytoplasma before.”

The new findings parallel those seen in emerging infectious diseases of humans originating in wildlife, Dietrich said. “This is why we need to look more broadly across nature and see what’s out there.”

The National Science Foundation supports this research.

The INHS is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

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Soil Health and Pest Management: Challenges in the European Union

CERTIS

05/07/2022

Jackie Pucci of AgriBusiness Global sat down with Dr. Arben Myrta, Corporate Development Manager with Certis Belchim B.V., based in Italy, to discuss developments in soil health and pest management solutions at the company and wider trends he is witnessing in the space.

Dr Arben Myrta, Certis Belchim B.V.
Quality produce with good soil pest management
Damage by Fusarium wilt in melon
Destroyed tomato plants from the attack of Meloidogyne spp.
Damaged roots of tomato by the nematode Meloidogyne spp.
Nematode damage in carrots from Meloidogyne spp.

Can you talk about some of the key developments in ‘soil health management’ in agriculture and what is driving adoption in Europe?

Soil health in its broad scientific definition considers its capacity, thanks to biotic and abiotic components, to function as a vital living ecosystem to sustain plants and animals. A soil may be healthy in terms of the functioning of its eco-system but not necessarily for crop production. In agriculture, good soil pest management remains a cornerstone for the quantity and quality of production at farm level. When farmers cultivate the same plants for a long time in the same soil without crop rotations or other agronomic measures, the soil starts to evidence nutritional and phytopathological problems for the plants. This is more evident in horticulture, and particularly, in protected crops in Europe, where this problem is of major importance.

In the past, in Europe, soil pest management in horticulture was mostly covered by chemical fumigation, lead first by methyl bromide (MB). MB was later globally banned for depleting the ozone layer, while other fumigants, which were intended to replace it, were not approved during the regulatory renewal process, thus creating a gap between the farmers’ needs and the possibilities to have adequate solutions for their cropping.  Meanwhile, in the last decades there has also been huge progress in research and technology, developing more effective biorational soil products (beneficial microorganisms, such as fungi, bacteria, etc.., plant extracts, etc..) and increased public awareness around human health and the environment, followed by more restrictive legislation on the use of chemicals in agriculture.

Driven by the legislation and the general attention of society on the use of plant protection products in agriculture, the industry has been proactive in looking for new solutions with safer tox and eco-tox profile, focusing on biorational products, whose number, as new plant protection products for the control of soil-borne pests and diseases, is continuously increasing in the EU.

How important do you see soil health and soil pest management in the complete picture of agricultural productivity, and how has that view changed?

Soil health and good soil pest management practices in crop production have always been considered important. In Europe, the level of attention and knowledge on this topic has been higher among professionals and farmers working in horticulture, the ornamentals industry, nurseries and particularly protected crops, basically everywhere where long crop rotations are not easily practiced, and pest-infested soils become a big problem for the farmers.

The rapid banning or limitation of several traditional synthetic products used to control soil pests raised the question for field advisors and farmers of how to deal with soil problems in the new situation. In recent years European farmers have been facing particular difficulties in controlling plant-parasitic nematodes.

Biorational products available today in EU countries represent a very good tool for the management of several soil pests in many crops and targets, but are still not sufficiently effective to guarantee full satisfaction to the growers in important crops like protected fruiting vegetables, strawberry, carrots, potato, ornamentals, etc., which explains why ‘emergency uses’ are still granted at EU country level following the request of grower associations to cover the needs of their farmers. The continuous increase in the numbers of new biorational products in the future, and particularly the innovative formulations that will follow, will be of paramount importance for their role in soil pest management.

A second, but important obstacle, is the generally limited knowledge on soil components (including its fertility and capacity to suppress pests by beneficial microorganisms) and the correct use of the biorational products, which cannot be expected to be effective quickly or be used as solo products, as the ‘old’ chemicals were. They should be seen more in programs with other soil management solutions, as recommended by the integrated production guidelines. Here, a further important obstacle is the lack of an effective public extension service to advise farmers, which is limited or totally lacking in many European Countries.

Everybody in the EU is now convinced that soil management in the future will rely on biorational and integrated solutions, but the question is how to reach this objective gradually, being pragmatic and reliable, balancing the environmental, economic and agricultural perspective. Legislation always steers the direction of progress but should be carefully considering the real product capabilities to make it happen in a short time and not focusing on ‘emergency situations’ as has now been the case for more than a decade.

What are some of the perceptions, either correct or incorrect, and other challenges you are dealing with in the region with respect to products for soil health?

This market has seen a rapid change from chemistry to biorational solutions, but in the meantime is facing a lot of challenges in order to meet the expectations of the farmers for quantity and quality of produce. This topic is widely discussed in dedicated scientific forums like that of the International Society of Horticultural Sciences, of which the last International Symposium on Soil and Substrate Disinfestation was held in 2018 in Crete, Greece. A dedicated round table was organized with soil experts to discuss the important challenges faced by the European growers due to the lack of plant protection solutions for an effective control of several soil pests, most of all nematodes. I participated in that round table discussion, whose main conclusions were the following concerns, considered as target actions for the scientific community:

  • the farmer needs various tools for soil disinfestation (SD) in the light of the limited current arsenal of SD tools;
  • the lengthy and unpredictable European registration process (sometimes more than 10 years from dossier submission to the first national approval) of new plant protection products (including biorational) and the cautious approach of EU regulation, as well as restrictions imposed, has led to a reduction of active ingredients available in the past years;
  • a more effective and faster evaluation system is needed, especially for naturally occurring and low risk products (biological, plant extracts, etc.). That is, all products which are essential for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs;
  • following the implementation of Regulation EC 1107/2009, the only tool available to fill the gaps in local production systems is Art. 53 of the above-mentioned Regulation, which provides “derogations” for exceptional authorizations of plant protection products. Such authorizations increased exponentially in the last years, indicating that existing solutions in the European market are not considered sufficient;
  • the above-mentioned EU Regulation has a high socio-economic impact on various production systems in Europe and a Spanish case shows clearly the importance of maintaining a sustainable agricultural activity in local communities that, in the case of protected crops area, includes 13% of the active population employed in agriculture;
  • several European agricultural sectors are affected as the EU authority is allowing increased importation from extra-EU countries, considered unfair competition due to their more flexible registration system for plant protection products than that of the EU;
  • reduced capacity of soil pest research, where experts are retired and not being replaced, alongside weak, or in many areas non-existent, extension services together are causing the loss of soil knowledge and good advice for our farmers. Today, soil diagnosis is frequently completely lacking or insufficient before any soil pest and crop management decisions are taken.

The clear message from the scientific experts at that meeting was that these issues must be correctly addressed at all levels of stakeholders, in such a way that all available tools, including sustainable use of soil disinfestation, may be used in a combined IPM system to allow sustainable production in Europe.

What are some of the most exciting developments at Certis Belchim in soil health and pest management?

Since the establishment of Certis Europe in 2001, we have focused on soil pest and disease management. In 2003, Certis built the first CleanStart program providing integrated solutions for sustainable soil management, combining cultural, biological and chemical approaches. After more than a decade, in the mid-2010s, the CleanStart integrated approach started combining biological and chemical inputs with agronomic services (training to farmers and field advisors, soil pest diagnosis support for partner farms and stewardship product advice for applicators and/or farmers) to provide sustainable soil management for the future, aligned with the principles of the Sustainable Use of pesticides as per the EU Directive. All these activities were carried out successfully thanks to a wide international network created with many research institutes across Europe on soil pest management topics. This approach facilitated our participation in soil research projects funded also by the EU. Thanks to this experience we have been able to prepare and share many publications and communications, in particular the coordination for several years of an International Newsletter on Soil Pest Management (CleanStart).

Last year we were also granted a SMART Expertise funding from the Welsh Government, which is co-founded by Certis, in a research project lead by Swansea University, with Certis Belchim B.V. the industry partner, alongside major Welsh growers, Maelor Forest Nurseries Ltd and Puffin Produce Ltd. This project, now ongoing, looks to develop new and innovative products to control soil pests, primarily nematodes.

Thanks to this team involvement on soil topics, our present soil portfolio includes several biorational solutions such as Trichoderma spp. (TriSoil), Bacillus spp. (Valcure), garlic extract (NemGuard), etc. and this is continuously increasing through our research and development pipeline. With the soil biorational products we have developed a good knowledge not only on the products, but also in their interaction with biotic and abiotic soil components and with other similar products.

Our new company, Certis Belchim, in the future will continue to be particularly interested in this market segment and will be focusing mostly on biorational products. Our plans mainly encompass: (i) label extension to more crops and targets for the existing products; (ii) development and registration of new active ingredients for the control of soil borne pathogens, insects and nematodes; (iii) development of innovative formulations for soil use with focus on slow-release; (iv) field validation of effective programs with bio-solutions and other control methods.

In all these research and development activities, supported by the long experience we have in such topics, we are looking to generate our own IP solutions for soil pest management.

How have you seen this space evolve over the past of years, and what are you expecting the next years will bring?

From a technical perspective, we expect the nematode problems to increase globally in the future. This is due in part to the gradual global increase in average temperature, now recorded over recent decades, which will allow the most damaging nematodes, Meloidogyne spp., to establish at higher elevation and higher latitudes while in areas already infested, they will develop for a longer damaging period of time, thus leading to larger nematode soil population densities by the end of the crop cycle and, in turn, to greater damage to the succeeding crops.

From a regulatory perspective in Europe, if the approval process for new effective nematicides is not shortened and remains as restrictive as today, less effective solutions will be available, and there will be more reductions in rates and crops on which their use is permitted (e.g. not every year). This again will certainly lead to an increase in the severity of the nematodes that in many areas could be overlooked.

From a quarantine perspective, the globalization of trade has facilitated the introduction into Europe of new damaging nematodes and diseases and pests in general, events which are expected to increase in the future. The most critical situation can occur in protected and nursery crops, and for the production of healthy propagating material of annual crops, such as potato seed, bulbs and seeds of bulbous plant crops, including flowers, strawberry runners, woody nursery plants, of both crop and ornamental plants, and in all crops for which quarantine issues must be considered, especially when seeds, bulbs and any kind of plant propagating material are to be exported out of the EU.

The expectation is also that positive results will come from public research (more focus on resources is needed) and private industry where work is ongoing to bring to the market new biorational solutions and innovative methods with higher efficacy in controlling soil pests and to fulfill the increasing needs of this market. However, this will only be realized if regulatory hurdles are reduced in the EU, for example for low risk biorational solutions.

How are external factors (e.g., soaring input costs) impacting the adoption of these products?

Today agriculture and plant protection products, like the whole economy, are affected by higher prices due to the increased cost of energy and raw materials globally. Considering that the costs in agricultural production are already high and sometimes, those of soil pest control are not applicable for several crops, any further increase in production costs may lead to the abandonment of effective solutions, resulting in additional increase in the complexities of soil problems on our farms. This trend, if allowed to persist, will severely affect our agricultural sector.

This said, there will also be a potential increase in the new solutions entering the market in the coming years, which will face higher costs during development and the registration process as well.

From a technical perspective, the only way to reduce such risks is to support farmers with the right knowledge on how to use new soil products correctly (dose rate, timing and method of application, etc..) and increase cost effectiveness.

Can you share highlights of research and case studies that your company has conducted with respect to soil health?

Our company has been involved in many research and market studies dedicated to the soil pest management sector. The last important one was ‘Sustainability of European vegetable and strawberry production in relation to fumigation practices,’ prepared by a European team of independent soil experts. The aim of the study was to understand technically the role and economic impact of chemical soil fumigation in key European areas of vegetable and strawberry production. Three cases of representative crops were investigated: strawberries, solanaceous/cucurbitaceous crops cultivated under protected conditions and carrots as a relevant open field crop.

The study concluded that vegetable production is a key agricultural sector in Europe: including high-value crops like solanaceous and cucurbitaceous crops produced under protected conditions (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes, cucumbers and melons), carrots and strawberries, the production value at farmer level is €12.5 billion; the cultivated area involved is roughly 330,000 ha. The importance of these crops is even greater when the entire food value chain, in economic and social terms, is also considered.

High standards in terms of food quality/safety and certificated production, along with affordable consumer prices and consistent availability across the seasons are demanded of European vegetable production and, as a consequence, are the drivers for the growers who have to protect such crops effectively and economically. The growers face very significant issues deriving from soil-borne pests, which are the key limiting factor to achieving quality and economically sustainable yields. As strongly indicated by farmers and crop experts, among the soil-borne pests, nematodes present the most impactful and frequent challenges.

According to the survey carried out in key EU countries (Spain, Italy, France, Belgium,…), the most common soil management practices for vegetable crops and strawberries are: chemical fumigation, crop rotation, resistant cultivars and rootstocks, followed by soil-less systems, non-fumigant treatments, soil solarization, biological products, organic soil amendments, catch and cover crops.

This shows clearly that soil pest management today and in the near future will rely on IPM systems combining and rotating different management practices, with a different degree of implementation depending on the cropping system.

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USDA-ARS Releases Genome of the Voracious Desert Locust

USDA Agricultural Research Service sent this bulletin at 06/27/2022 09:16 AM EDT

View as a webpageARS News ServiceARS
News ServiceTwo desert locustsARS has produced the first high-quality, highly detailed genome of the desert locust. Photo by Brandon WooUSDA-ARS Releases Genome of the Voracious Desert LocustFor media inquiries contact: Kim Kaplan, 301-588-5314June 27, 2022—The first high-quality genome of the desert locust—those voracious feeders of plague and devastation infamy and the most destructive migratory insect in the world—has been produced by U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service scientists.The genome of the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is enormous at just under 9 billion base pairs, nearly three times the size of the human genome.”We were concerned that, faced with this huge and very likely complex desert locust genome, it was going to be an extremely long and difficult job. However, we were able to go from sample collection to a final assembled genome in under 5 months,” said entomologist Scott M. Geib with the ARS Tropical Crop and Commodity Protection Research Unit in Hilo, Hawaii, and one of the team leaders. “The desert locust is one of the largest insect genomes ever completed and it was all done from a single locust.”The size of the desert locust’s chromosomes is remarkable; compare them to those of the model fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, the first insect genome ever assembled. Many of the desert locust’s individual chromosomes are larger than the entire fruit fly genome.”With the desert locust, we were dealing with a much larger genome in many fewer pieces about 8.8 Gb in just 12 chromosomes. Next to the fruit fly, it’s like an 18-wheeler next to a compact car,” Geib said. “It was like sequencing a typical insect genome many, many times over. But with today’s advances in DNA sequencing technologies, we are now able to generate extremely accurate genomes of insects that previously would have been unapproachable.”ARS has made the genome available to the international research community through the National Center for Biotechnology Information at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bioproject/814718.Desert locust plagues are cyclic and have been recorded since the times of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt, as far back as 3200 B.C. In recent decades, there have been desert locust swarms in 1967-1969, 1986-1989 and most lately 2020-2022. They cause devastation in East Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, threatening food security in many countries.Their damage can be massive. A small swarm can eat as much food in a day as would feed 35,000 people; a swarm of historic proportions covering the area of New York City eats in one day the same amount as the population of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey combined, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.Current desert locust control mostly depends on locating swarms and spraying them with broad-spectrum pesticides. Ultimately, this genomics work could decrease dependence on such pesticides.”Having a high-quality genome is a big step toward finding targeted controls,” Geib said. “It will also give us valuable information about relatives of the desert locust that are major pests in the Americas such the Mormon cricket, another swarming species that can impact U.S. food security.”This work is part of the Ag100Pest Initiative, an ARS program to develop high quality genomes for the top 100 arthropod pests in agriculture as a foundation for basic and applied research.USDA Foreign Agricultural Service coordinated this research opportunity and provided funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development Africa Bureau through an interagency agreement.Five Desert Locust FactsThe Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a species of short-horned grasshopper that periodically changes its body shape, behavior, and reproduction rate in response to environmental conditions such as an abundance of rainfall and moisture.Plague is actually a technical term. Desert locust infestations are identified in a sequence of increasing severity based on magnitude and geographical scale of the swarm size: recession (calm), outbreak, upsurge, plague (maximum intensity and scope).Swarms can stay in the air for long periods of time. They regularly cross the Red Sea, about 300 km. They can also cover long distances: For example, Northwest Africa to the British Isles in 1954 and from West Africa to the Caribbean in about ten days in 1988. Swarms can travel up to 1,000 km in one week, about the distance between San Francisco and Seattle.A one-square-kilometer swarm can contain up to 80 million adult desert locusts.Each new generation in a swarm can be up to 20 times larger than the previous one.The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $17 of economic impact.Interested in reading more about ARS research? Visit our news archiveU.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Agricultural Research Service

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Video: As Ghana appears poised to approve its first GMO — a insect-resistant cowpea — here’s the story of the country’s science journey

Joseph Gakpo | June 24, 2022

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Ghana is on the verge of approving its first genetically modified crop, the pod borer resistant (PBR) cowpea. In this documentary, Joseph Opoku Gakpo discusses Ghana’s GMO journey.

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Foreign wasp reducing vegetable damage

Sigrid Brown

Posted Thu 10 Feb 2011 at 6:38pmThursday 10 Feb 2011 at 6:38pm

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Queensland Government researchers say vegetable growers in Bowen and the Burdekin region in the state’s north have been able to reduce pest damage by introducing a foreign wasp species.

Dr Siva Subramaniam says the silverleaf whitefly poses a significant threat to Queensland’s billion-dollar vegetable industry.

Dr Subramaniam says the whitefly sucks nutrients and injects toxic saliva into vegetables, decimating tomato, pumpkin, eggplant and cucumber crops.

He says the wasp, from Pakistan, has proved to be safe and may be introduced to more farms.

“It has been very rigorously tested by the CSIRO around four or five years ago,” he said.

“After that, it has been tested widely in the field.

“There’s not any negative impacts – mainly the wasp attacks only the silverleaf whitefly, not any other native species.”

Dr Subramaniam says the introduction of the wasp means farmers have been able to use less pesticides on crops over the four-year program.

He says the wasp may now be introduced to farms in Bundaberg and the Lockyer Valley.

“What the wasp is doing is they go and attach to the whitefly and feeding on them and utilising the whitefly to breed their own generation,” he said.

“The whitefly is not breeding in the fast and large numbers.”

Posted 10 Feb 2011

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Soybeans Under Attack – Cotton Leafworm
June 23, 2022       On June 5, 2022,  a partner in  Sakha, Egypt, noted feeding damage in their soybean field 15 days after planting and alerted the SIL Disease and Pest Team (DPT). The soybeans were in the second vegetative stage (V2), so still young small plants. The feeding occurred between the leaves veins and was circular and  irregularly shaped with rough edges. Droppings were present on the leaves, and younger worms were only scratching the leaf surface, leaving a white film in some cases.       Collegues in Egypt identified the pest as the cotton leafworm and sprayed the field with insecticides containing Chlorfluazuron for control. The cotton leafwork had migrated from nearby cotton fields and demonstrates that pests from other crops can feed on soybean.  When newly introduced or rotated in, soybean may serve as an opportunistic food source for insects, such as occurred here in this traditional cotton region.     To help keep your soybeans healthy, the DPT created the Disease and Pest ID Board Facebook page and a Whatsapp group to help soybean producers keep abreast of pests and disease in their area, share photos and treatments, and seek and receive technical support and solutions. Join the Facebook page and Whatsapp group by scanning the QR code in the picture or contact Dr. Vitor Favoretto  (vrf2@illinois.edu/ +1 217 974 5296) and be a part of this network!. Together, we are stronger for soybean success!
  Like On Facebook Like On Facebook Follow On Twitter Follow On Twitter Visit Our Website Visit Our Website Contact Us Contact Us   Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Soybean Value Chain Research (Soybean Innovation Lab)
1301 West Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801 * Tel. (217) 333-7425 * soybeaninnovationlab@illinois.edu  

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