Perspectives Online

Addressing Priorities. From cultivating weed-killing cover crops to controlling pests on Christmas trees - the Southern Region IPM Center responds to regional research grant needs. By Rosemary Hallberg.

With funding from the Southern Region IPM Center, Dr. Fred Hain, CALS entomology professor, and graduate student Leslie Newton are researching ways to control a destructive insect that feeds on various firs throughout the southern Appalachians.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

In the early 1970s, as the public flocked to farm-grown tomatoes shipped from California and Florida, interest in greenhouse tomatoes dwindled along with university research and greenhouse variety trials. But, in recent years, public demand for greenhouse tomatoes began to return.

Dr. Mary Peet, N.C. State University horticulture professor, knew that research had to follow. To define the priorities for that research, Peet submitted a proposal to coordinate a regional Pest Management Strategic Plan for greenhouse tomatoes to the IPM Enhancement Grants Program - a regional grant program administered by the Southern Region Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Center.

Housed on Centennial Campus at N.C. State within its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Southern Region IPM Center is part of a national network of Regional IPM Centers formed to encourage multistate collaborations and respond to regionally identified priorities for IPM.

"The idea of having regional centers arose first for coordinating the information flow and, second, to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture coordinate funding," said Dr. James VanKirk, director of the Southern Region IPM Center. "The centers involve stakeholders in setting priorities and making decisions to direct public resources."

Projects funded through the Southern Region IPM Center include those led by CALS researchers (from top) Dr. Frank Louws and Dr. Gerald Holmes.
Photos Becky Kirkland
Created in 2003, the Southern Region IPM Center gathers and communicates information and manages funding provided by USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES). "The centers gather regionally based priorities, so research funded is accountable to the needs of the region," said VanKirk. "All of the projects funded through the centers are applicable to these needs."

Each year, the Center oversees two grant competitions: the Southern Region IPM competitive grants (S-RIPM), a federal grants competition managed by the Center, and the IPM Enhancement grants program. The latter includes Pest Management Strategic Plans that result from a collaborative process in which experts from different backgrounds gather to identify research and education priorities for a given crop.

Among projects funded through the Southern Region IPM competitive grants program are five led by College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty:

Dr. Gerald Holmes: CALS associate professor of plant pathology and Extension specialist, received a $140,000 research and extension grant to study downy mildew's fungicide resistance and improve a current national online tracking system for downy mildew. The forecast system includes a map detailing the path of the disease agent (Pseudoperonospora cubensis) in addition to a forecast that indicates weather conditions and their impact on where the disease is likely to strike next. Eighteen states in the eastern and central regions of the U.S. contribute to the tracking system.

Holmes plans to use the grant to make the system better by increasing the frequency of forecast updates; he will incorporate 3-D and GIS technology to improve the quality and accuracy of the forecasts.

Dr. David Danehower: CALS crop science associate professor, and colleagues received a $121,824 CSREES Southern Region IPM grant to continue work on allelopathic rye begun by N.C. State weed scientist Dr. Doug Worsham in the 1980s. Allelopathy is a process in which plant mulch releases natural compounds toxic to other plants.

"Doug was really the person who started the ball rolling at NCSU," Danehower said. "Worsham and a number of his graduate students, including Drs. Donn Schilling, Rex Liebl, 'Wick' Wickliffe, and 'Nag' Nagabushana, conducted research on allelopathic cover crops through the early 1990s."

Continuing that legacy, Chris Reberg-Horton, while a graduate student under the direction of Dr. Nancy Creamer of Horticultural Science, came up with the idea of breeding a more allelopathic rye to improve its ability to control weeds. Following Reberg-Horton's graduation, Danehower and his colleagues, Dr. Paul Murphy of Crop Science and Dr. Jim Burton of Horticultural Science, continued to study the phenomenon of rye allelopathy and began the task of breeding a genetically improved allelopathic rye for use as a cover crop. Reberg-Horton, now a Crop Science faculty member working in the area of organic agriculture, has recently rejoined the team. Current graduate students Ashley Brooks, Chris LaHovary, and Christine Sickler complete the group of NCSU scientists working to unravel the chemistry, genetics and agronomics of allelopathic rye.

Dr. Robert Richardson: CALS assistant professor of crop science and Extension specialist, received an $80,000 grant to study the effectiveness of cover crops on horseweed control. Horseweed, an economical nuisance for farmers throughout the South, has recently become resistant to glyphosate, the main ingredient in RoundUp. Glyphosate-resistant horseweed is among the top weed complaints in North Carolina. Richardson's research will include examining how horseweed and cutleaf evening primrose are established and how various cover crops affect their populations. He anticipates reducing herbicide usage by 25 percent.

Dr. Fred Hain: CALS professor of entomology, received a $59,316 grant to research ways to lower the amount of pesticides needed to control the balsam woolly adelgid, a tiny yet destructive insect that feeds on various firs throughout the southern Appalachians. The balsam woolly adelgid is one of the threats to the Christmas tree industry. Christmas tree growers currently must spray their trees for the adelgid twice every five to 10 years. Equipment needed for the volume of spray is extremely expensive, and only half of the Christmas tree growers in the southern Appalachians can afford to treat.

Dr. Frank Louws: CALS plant pathologist and Extension specialist, received a $49,164 grant to develop an online database that would allow farmers across the Southeast to type the name of a disease into an online form and instantaneously get a list of fungicide recommendations and, more importantly, links to region-specific integrated management practices. The database will be designed initially to publish the annual Southeastern U.S. Vegetable Crop Guidelines. More than 6,500 copies of this publication, compiled by more than 50 specialists across the Southeast, are printed and distributed annually, and the publication has quickly become a standard resource for growers and their advisers.

"We have already developed a prototype," Louws said. "The project has generated a lot of national interest with companies who are eager to see it completed."

While the grant gave Louws enough to begin the database phase of the project, he hopes that having the grant will assist in requests for funding from other organizations, something that will be important as work continues. "As this project grows, rather than just providing recommendations, we can provide true IPM recommendations linked to product use," he said.