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Montana researchers and farmers trying new weapons in the fight - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana

Montana researchers and farmers trying new weapons in the fight against crop pests

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Montana researchers and farmers trying new weapons in the fight against crop pests (MTN News photo) Montana researchers and farmers trying new weapons in the fight against crop pests (MTN News photo)
NEAR CONRAD -

When people think about fighting back against pests and insects attacking crops most farmers probably start the conversation with chemical pesticides, however that’s a conversation that researchers are hoping to change with the use of more natural means including insect diseases and parasites. 

“Insects have their own diseases, they have their viruses, they have their bacterial diseases and they have their fungal diseases they even have worms,” said Dr. Stefan Jaronski who works as an entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “We have been looking at trying to use these natural enemies, these pathogens of insects to help manage the insect pest populations.”

According to Jaronski the effect of these pathogens can be swift, killing the insect within 7 to 8 days of entering the body. 

For the level of most pathogens to have a significant impact new spores must be introduced to the crops annually whether through a seed coating or a spray application.

Another pest control gaining traction in Ag research is the use of parasitoids or parasites that attack pest insects without harming crops.

“Most insects are very prolific in their reproduction,” said Dr. Brian Thompson, an entomologist at the Western Triangle Ag Research Center. “They are able to produce very high population densities in a very short period of time, parasitoids are able to counter act that population growth by laying their eggs inside the eggs of their host.

The effect of the parasitoids are less immediate but unlike the pathogens that must be introduced yearly the parasitoids of most pest insects are already present as native species.

However many common agricultural practices can kill these natural enemies making their populations too low to effectively control the pest insect.

“One of the great challenges is to think of the best way to maintain parasitoids in an agricultural environment, and a lot of emphasis is placed on not only what you do in the crop but also what you may do around a crop,” said Dr. David Weaver, a professor of entomology at Montana State University.  

The uses of pesticides and cultivation are catastrophic for most parasitoid populations, but Weaver says simple things like raising combine heads and the use of grass boarders can provide shelter for them to survive.

Some research in Montana has shown parasitoids to reach up to 90% of the pest population.

However the best results will come from combining both approaches.

“The fungus its self is not going to take out 100%, the parasitoids by themselves aren’t going to take out 100%. So let’s say the pathogens takes out 40% and the parasitoids will take out another 40%, so it’s an additive effect,” said Jaronski

Ideally when these methods are managed properly that additive effect can subtract the need for many chemicals used today.

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