New Products To Suppress an Old
The efficacy of the corn rootworm control material
is affected by how it's applied. ARS agricultural engineer Clint
Hoffmann selects the correct nozzles and locations on the spray
boom to deliver the product in large, discrete droplets.
|In Wharton County, Texas, some corn
farmers say they must control Mexican corn rootwormsthe predominant pest
of corn in their areaor get out of farming. To alleviate their woes,
farmers participating in an areawide integrated pest management (IPM) project
to control corn rootworms are getting a helping hand from
ARS agricultural engineer W. Clint
Hoffmann and others in the Areawide Pest Management Research Unit at College
"Rootworms drive up the cost of farming in the Corn Belt and in Texas,
which ranks seventh in corn production. Almost every acre of corn in Texas is
treated with soil insecticides at planting to limit root damage caused by
rootworm larvae. These soil treatments are expensiveranging from $10 to
$15 an acreenvironmentally unfriendly, and sometimes ineffective at
stopping rootworm infestation," says Hoffmann.
Soil insecticides are among the most toxic agricultural chemicals, and they
reduce adult rootworm emergence by only 40 to 50 percent, according to ARS
entomologist Dale W. Spurgeon.
Several new adult-control products have been developed that use lower doses of
toxicants. The Texas researchers showed that with proper timing and application
methods, these products can cut corn-rootworm damage while having little or no
harmful effect on the environment.
ARS pilot Hal Tom flies an Air Tractor 402B aircraft
spraying an insecticide mixture on a test field. Blue dye aids
in locating and measuring the product.
| Slamming the Corn Rootworm
In 1995, working closely with farmers, extension personnel, and industry,
Hoffmann and ARS agricultural engineer Ivan W. Kirk and other scientists at
College Station began an adult rootworm control program using aerial
applications of Slam. Made by MicroFlo, Inc., in Lakeland, Florida, Slam is
based on research by ARS entomologist Gerald Sutter in Brookings, South Dakota.
A combination of a feeding stimulant derived from wild buffalo gourd root and
the insecticide carbaryl, Slam reduced the number of rootworm-infested acres
from 2,000 to 80 in the test area over 3 years with a carbaryl application rate
of just 1 ounce per acre. Carbaryl is normally applied at 2 to 3 pounds per
"Just as important, farmers in the management area cut their use of soil
insecticides in half. Farmers will still use some soil insecticides to control
other soil insects. But this was our first victory with a product using a low
dose of toxicant to control adult beetles," says Hoffmann.
Because the western corn rootworm has developed resistance to carbaryl, making
it particularly difficult to control in Nebraska, two other companies have
launched new products that allow farmers to use one-tenth the labeled rate of
any other toxicant labeled for cornCideTrak (see sidebar) and Invite.
ARS entomologist Robert F.W. Schroder, of the Insect Biocontrol Laboratory in
Beltsville, Maryland, concocted Invite by using Hawksberry watermelon juice as
the feeding stimulant. The active ingredient in Invite is water soluble,
according to Schroder. Invite is made by FFP AgroTech, Inc., in Eustis,
Recent performance trials in Granger, Texas, of CideTrak and Inviteeach
combined with several different types of toxicantsshowed effective
rootworm control, according to Hoffmann.
Baits and Traps
Knowing when to apply insecticides is essential to any insect-control program.
To take the guesswork out of timing spray applications, Trécé
designed a trap with a kairomonea scent that mimics the adult beetle's
favorite food. The plastic dome-shaped trap looks somewhat like an ice cream
sundae container. The traps are placed 30 feet inside the cornfield.
Twenty years ago, managing corn rootworms was simple: just rotate crops from
corn to soybeans. "Now, we're finding new corn rootworm strains laying
their eggs in blooming soybeans and sorghum. Traps help us determine when adult
treatments are needed so we can prevent that from happening," says
Another Threat: Aflatoxin
Besides corn rootworms, yet another daunting foe of corn growers in this
management area is aflatoxin, which affects food safety and corn prices.
Could there be a connection between the number of beetles and the incidence of
aflatoxin? ARS palynologist (one who studies pollen) Gretchen D. Jones thinks
"In 1998, the scientists found 50 percent less aflatoxin in the area with
low numbers of adult rootworms than in the untreated areas," she says.
To confirm this phenomenon, Jones covers individual corn plants with
insect-proof bags, ensuring that no insects or pollen can enter. Soon afterward
she pollinates the plants using aflatoxin-free pollen.
Once it's known whether or not the Mexican corn rootworm spreads aflatoxin to
corn, farmers will have one more reason to control the insects over a large
The Areawide Corn Rootworm Management program is one of several national
areawide IPM programs driven by USDA's commitment to reduce reliance on
agricultural chemicals. The nationwide programs, which also include control of
codling moths, leafy spurge, and stored-grain insects, began in 1994.By
McGraw, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Crop Production, an ARS National Program (#305)
described on the World Wide Web at http://www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
To reach the scientists mentioned in this article, contact
Linda McGraw, USDA-ARS
National Center for Agricultural
Utilization Research, Information Staff, 1815 N. University Street, Peoria,
IL 61604; phone (309) 681-6530, fax (309) 681-6690.
Chemical Insecticide Use Gets CideTrak'ed
Research that improved microbial insecticide formulations also led to
environmentally friendly chemical formulations.
Before some crops were genetically transformed to resist certain insects,
scientists at the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research and
the Biotechnology Research and Development Corp., Peoria, Illinois, wanted to
solve a bugaboo of spray-applied biological control agents: If rain didn't wash
away caterpillar-killing viruses and bacteria soon after they were sprayed on
the plants, the harsh sun would likely deal these beneficial microbes a quick,
"The remedy on both counts turned out to be a new spray formulation that
included the sticky protein wheat gluten, made soluble by a chemical such as
citric acid," said ARS entomologist Michael R. McGuire. When spray
droplets dry on leaves, they stick like glue. The gluten also shields the
helpful microbes from the sun's lethal ultraviolet rays. A patent was issued in
In 1999, Bill Lingren, president of Trécé, Inc., was seeking
technology that would help the company develop crop-protection formulations
that would include a feeding stimulant along with any of several insecticides.
By rotating use of these agrichemicals, farmers could help ensure that
insecticide-resistant strains of corn rootworms would not quickly develop in
In a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) between ARS and
Trécé, the sticky wheat-gluten-based formulations again proved
useful. The company licensed the invention and now markets it under the name
CideTrak. When combined with any of at least three types of
insecticidespyrethroids, carbamates, and organophosphatesat
one-tenth the normal rates of application, CideTrak has worked better than
conventional sprays, says Scott Lingren, Trécé's global field
development manager. The partners have extended the CRADA into 2001 as they
test CideTrak's potential when combined with other insecticides.By
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
The research is part of New Uses, Quality, and Marketability of Plant and
Animal Products, an ARS National Program (#306) described on the World Wide Web
Michael R. McGuire, formerly at
the USDA-ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, IL,
is now in the USDA-ARS Western
Integrated Cropping Systems Research Unit, 17053 Shafter Ave., Shafter, CA
93263; phone (805) 746-8001, fax (805) 746-1619.
"New Products To Suppress an Old Insect
Pest" was published in the
issue of Agricultural Research magazine.