A high priority of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the development of sustainable pest management systems that are environmentally sound, economical, safe, and socially acceptable for the management or eradication of weed, nematode, disease, or insect pests and the subsequent transfer of these practices and principles to our customers. Over the past several years, several dramatic changes have occurred in agriculture that provide unique opportunities for achieving the goal for sustainable agricultural production systems. The eradication of the boll weevil as an economic threat to cotton production in the Southeastern U.S., the development of transgenic pest-protected corn and cotton, and the development of herbicide-tolerant transgenic crops have greatly reduced the use of pesticides for the control of some major insect and weed pests. These changes provide the opportunity for development of more ecologically based systems that rely on the inherent strengths of our agricultural production systems and for a whole-farm approach to the management of pests. The purpose of this document is to outline the Crop Protection and Management Research Laboratory's plan to develop a whole-farm, sustainable approach to the management of weed, nematode, aflatoxin, and insect problems associated with crop production in the Southeast.
The Crop Protection and Management Research Unit (CPMRU) was formed in 2000 through the melding of two research units in the former Insect Biology and Population Management Research Laboratory, i.e., the Plant Resistance/Germplasm Enhancement Research Unit, and the Insect Biology and Management Systems Research Unit, with the Nematodes, Weeds and Crops Research Unit. This reorganization brought together scientists from the disciplines of agronomy, entomology, nematology, plant pathology, and weed science, thus allowing for a more integrated, holistic approach to the management of pests of southern crops.
The vision of CPMRU is the development of sustainable pest management systems for southern crops using ecologically-based, whole-farm approaches that rely on the inherent strengths of our agricultural production systems.
The mission of CPMRU is to conduct basic, developmental and applied research in the Southeastern Coastal Plain to generate new knowledge, principles and practices for the development of more efficient, economical, environmentally sound, sustainable strategies for the management of nematode, weed, disease, and insect pests of agronomic and vegetable crops that minimize the use of agricultural chemicals and their effects on the environment and public health.
The following are high-priority strategic goals for the Unit:
1) Conduct basic, developmental, and applied research on the biology and ecology of major pest and their natural enemies to develop a better understanding of how they function in and impact agronomic and vegetable cropping systems in the Southeast.
2) Develop integrated pest management strategies based on the inherent strength of our agricultural systems that are sustainable and rely to a lesser degree on agricultural chemicals for the control of established, invasive and exotic nematode, weed, disease, and insect pests.
3) Develop crop rotations, cover crops, trap crops, and reduced tillage systems to reduce pest populations which impact agronomic and vegetable crops grown in the Southeastern Coastal Plain.
4) Determine the influences of landscape ecology on the population dynamics of major pests of southern crops.
5) Develop economic thresholds for weeds, plant diseases, nematodes and insects and integrate these thresholds into expert systems.
6) Identify the mechanisms of resistance to insects, nematodes, and aflatoxin formation in corn, cotton and peanut and develop molecular markers that can be used in maker-assisted selection for resistance.
7) Develop phytotoxicity and efficacy data on ornamentals and residue data on minor food crops to support registration or reregistration of pesticides.
Most major pest problems are induced, rather than part of the natural ecosystem in which they occur. Whenever a perturbation occurs within the natural ecosystem, some pest(s) emerge to take advantage of the disturbance. Natural ecosystems have high diversity and stability compared to agroecosystems. These properties tend to buffer natural systems from major fluctuations in species and their numbers, i.e., pest outbreaks, that often occur in agroecosystems. In an agroecosystem, the crop is the dominant species. In the past, we have relied almost solely on agricultural chemicals to provide plant nutrients and to control pests within our agroecosystems. However, we have found that over time more and more chemicals are needed to obtain the same results or to prevent pest problems. An alternative to the chemical treadmill is to use the natural strengths of the crop and surrounding vegetation to increase plant health and to help manage both beneficial and pest organisms. We can apply principles from the natural ecosystem, such as habitat conservation and enhancement, conservation of natural enemies, reduced or conservation tillage, improved soil properties, reduced crop stress, healthy plants and other principles and practices that reduce pest numbers, enhance natural enemies, and/or enhance the natural defenses of the crop to reduce pest damage. This is not to say that all agrochemicals are inherently bad, but they should be used judiciously and in concert with more ecologically benign practices to help maintain a balance that is sustainable. Achievement of the goals noted above will help find that balance in our agricultural production systems in the Southeast which minimize the use of agrochemicals while relying on the natural strengths and diversity in our cropping systems and farms to manage pest problems, thus making them more sustainable than those currently employed.