In recent years, the stink bug has become a major problem for Georgia crops, particularly in cotton fields, where it costs farmers millions in losses annually. To develop more efficient methods to control the pest, a University of Georgia researcher wants to learn more about it, especially its travel habits.“Our main mission for this project is to learn about the ecology and biology of the stink bug and then develop environmentally friendly control strategies that exploit these findings,” said Mike Toews, a research entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Tifton, Ga.Georgia farms, like many in the Southeast, are diverse, with various crops planted from early spring until late fall in fields near each other. In early spring, stink bugs emerge from roadside weeds or wooded areas where they spent the winter. They then migrate to developing crops. They linger along the way, feeding, looking for companionship and building populations in early-maturing crops like corn and wheat. By late-summer, they’ve built up a hungry army, which turns its focus to the tasty developing cotton boll — the fruit that makes the lint. In Georgia, they claimed 20,000 bales of cotton, or $6 million in damage, in 2006 alone.“Stink bugs start early in weeds, then move to corn, peanuts, soybeans and veggies before damaging cotton at the end of the season,” he said. “The idea is to figure out how we can prevent stink bugs from building up and damaging late-season plants like cotton.”Toews and Clemson University entomologists Jeremy Greene, Francis Reay-Jones and economist Carlos Carpi are using a three-year $154,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Southern Region Integrated Pest Management Center to pinpoint when and where the bug enters various Southeastern crops.In Tifton, Toews is using cotton, peanut, soybean, grain sorghum, pecan, watermelon and corn fields, totaling 402 acres, as his research farmscape. Using sweep nets, traps, damage assessments and Global Positioning Systems technology, he’s learning about the bug’s reproductive habits, or cycles, and tracking its path through the farm.He is closely monitoring and mapping the population build up and the times when stinkbugs enter cotton fields. They typically settle at the edges of the fields first, he said.“We are targeting sprays on these edges at the times they are moving in the fields to prevent the need for spraying the entire field,” he said.Typically, farmers scout fields for stink bug damage. Once a threshold level of damage is met, the entire field is sprayed. By targeting just the edges at the right time, he said, farmers could reduce their insecticide use by 75 percent; some by as much as 90 percent. “By targeting sprays,” he said, “we’re not broadcasting the field and killing beneficial insects that can actually help fight other (cotton-eating) pests.”Georgia’s subtropical climate suits cotton production. It also appeals to hordes of cotton-eating bugs. For decades, farmers sprayed insecticides on cotton 12 to 14 times during the growing season, or once a week, to protect it. Stink bugs were likely present then, too, but were controlled with those sprays.The eradication of the boll weevil allowed farmers to stop spraying weekly. In the mid-‘90s, farmers started planting cotton varieties that contained a bacterium that killed caterpillars soon after they ate the leaves. That bacterium doesn’t hurt stinkbugs.Farmers now spray insecticide only two or three times during the growing season. Without the added chemical control, stinkbugs have now emerged in force.Georgia’s ranks second in cotton production behind Texas. The state’s crop is worth between $500 million and $600 million annually.
Organizers of the agricultural leadership program Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture have chosen 22 professionals from across the state to participate in the program’s inaugural class. Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture is housed in and supported by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. AGLA is also supported by numerous agricultural and forestry organizations and associations throughout Georgia. AGLA’s founders aim to educate and empower Georgia’s agricultural leaders to become effective advocates for the largest economic drivers in Georgia — the state’s agricultural and forestry industries, said Rochelle Strickland, the program’s founding director and a public service assistant in the college. “We are excited about the group of individuals that have been selected to participate in class I of AGLA,” Strickland said. “They are a high quality, diverse and committed group of professionals who will play an integral role in not only establishing this program, but in the continued growth and development of our industry.” AGLA is designed to bring together leaders from all segments of the state’s agriculture and forestry industries. Over a two-year period, they will help one another understand and analyze the issues facing their industries, as well as challenges that may emerge in the future. AGLA’s inaugural class members are: Brent Allen of the UGA Cooperative Extension Service, Johnson County• Brandon Ashley of the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation, Bibb County• Tim Bland of Newport Timber, Bulloch County• Scott Cochran of House of Raeford Farms, Franklin County• Sarah Cook of the Center of Innovation for Agribusiness, Turner County• Kevin Cronic of House of Raeford Farms, Anderson, S.C.• Steven Gibson of the UGA CAES Business Office, Clarke County• Jennifer Harris of White Oak Pastures, Early County• Jon Harris of AgSouth Farm Credit, Pierce County • Jutt Howard of North Georgia Turf, Heard County • Craig Howell of Harris Moran Seed Company, Berrien County • Jesse Johnson of the Southern Land Exchange, Oglethorpe County• Trey Joyner of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, Dekalb County• Sherry Morris of the Georgia Green Industry Association, Fannin County • Duane Myers of Kroger, Henry County• Tate O’Rourke of U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s office, Hall County • Maggie Potter of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Muscogee County• Mark Risse of UGA CAES, Oconee County• Amanda Tedrow of UGA Cooperative Extension, Clarke County• Rebecca Thomas of UGA Cooperative Extension, Chattooga County• Chris Wheeler of AGrowStar, Houston County• Derick Wooten of Rocky Hammock Farms, Jeff Davis County Those seeking more information about the Advancing Georgia’s Leaders in Agriculture can visit www.agla.caes.uga.edu . ###