The Organic Food and Farming Summit began on September 17. Presented by Florida Organic Growers, the summit features farm tours, workshops and presentations on the latest research for organic production.
Ayanava Majumdar, Extension entomologist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, revealed a new pest-exclusion method for high-tunnel production at the summit on September 18. The new system is called high-tunnel pest exclusion (HTPE). Many high-tunnel crop producers struggle with caterpillars such as armyworms, loopers and hornworms. HTPE is a permanent exclusion system that can stop these pests from entering the high tunnels.
Majumdar says he has been experimenting with HTPE since 2014 on several farms and in the lab, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He has been testing a variety of woven, monofilament and molded shade cloths with the goal of protecting crops from moths. If the moths cannot enter the tunnel, they cannot lay eggs.
Majumdar found that a 40- to 50-percent woven shade cloth seemed to work best against the moths. The cloth is wrapped around the high tunnel under the plastic and clamped under the sidewalls, creating a tight, permanent enclosure. The cloth does not get in the way of normal high-tunnel operations, and it keeps the pests at bay.
Majumdar also summarized some results from the 2016 and 2017 seasons. 2016 was a dry year, which means the chances for outbreak were high. After implementing HTPE with 40- to 50-percent woven shade cloth on seven different farms, Majumdar says he saw great results. Armyworms were reduced by 64 to 80 percent, cabbage loopers and soybean loopers decreased 67 to 88 percent, and he saw an 84 percent reduction in squash vine borers.
In 2017, Alabama saw a lot of rainfall, which made pest pressure less cumbersome. However, Majumdar was satisfied with the results once again. He says he is now seeing almost a 90 percent decrease in armyworms and fruitworms.
These results are based off pest pressure within the tunnels when there was an outbreak in the field. Based on the results, Majumdar says HTPE is a suitable system for increased pest pressure and moderate pest pressure.
Majumdar reminds growers that this is not a fool-proof plan. “Insects will adapt and try to outsmart the system, which is why we don’t say 100 percent. But, the reduction will improve crop yield and quality,” he says.
If you are interested in learning more about HTPE, the Alabama Integrated Pest Management website provides tutorial videos for installation and testimonials from growers who have implemented this system on their farms.
Hear Majumdar’s interview:
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