Primer explains inexpensive solution for North Country farmers battling alfalfa snout beetle
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 2:38 pm

There is a new, effective and inexpensive way for North Country farmers to control the alfalfa snout beetle, a crop pest that can destroy an entire field of valuable dairy and livestock forage in one season.

At 2013 crop meetings and agricultural events, farmers in the Northern New York region are receiving copies of the new Management of Alfalfa Snout Beetle primer on nematode control.

The farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP), an agricultural research, outreach, technical assistance program for the six northernmost counties of New York state, provided long-term funding to develop a solution for ASB.

Cornell University entomologist Dr. Elson Shields conducted research into ASB, investigated potential control measures, designed a new greenhouse screening method, field-tested that protocol, and developed an easy-to-implement on-farm biocontrol protocol that uses nematodes native to New York to destroy the larvae of the ASB.

The seven-page primer farmers are receiving includes calculations of the cost of losing an alfalfa crop to ASB, which can be as high as $487 per acre plus the increased expense of buying feed to replace the lost forage, thereby increasing the cost of milk, beef, or livestock production.

To date, more than 72 farms in northern New York have applied the nematodes on more than 154 fields in the six northernmost counties of New York State. The new primer will encourage more farmers to adopt the practice.

The strategies section of the new primer includes information on how to successfully farm-raise the two types of nematodes that destroy the beetle in shallow and deep soil. A list of supplies is provided with how-to steps for rearing and applying the nematodes and timing their application to fields for maximum impact.

The primer also includes information on the ASB life cycle and a history of the battle to beat the beetle that was first detected in the U.S. at Oswego in 1896.

Treatment methods for ASB from 1939 to 1972 included use of poison bait and other insecticides. These methods were banned in 1972 due to environmental contamination concerns.

NNYADP-funded field trials have provided critical side-by-side comparison data for the year-to-year ASB-resistant varieties successive breeding efforts since 2008.

Farmers guiding the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, a research, outreach and technical assistance program for St. Lawrence, Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, and Lewis counties, identified ASB for attention by Cornell researchers in 1990. Researchers saw the first substantive success with the nematodes application with a farm-wide ASB population crash at the John Peck dairy farm near Carthage in 2002.

The Management of Alfalfa Snout Beetle primer is posted online under Field Crops Crop Pests at www.nnyagdev.org.