Published online: Mar 26, 2009
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As a result of UMaine Cooperative Extension's work with partners throughout the state, disease forecasting coupled with fungicide selection and applications, field scouting, early detection and appropriate management strategies allowed growers to successfully cope with the serious late blight pressure and avoid losses.

The IPM program has been in place since 1977.

"We coordinate a statewide network of electronic weather stations, and survey 100 potato fields on a weekly basis for weeds, insects and diseases," UMaine Cooperative Extension professor and pest management specialist Jim Dill says. "The resulting data helps our IPM scientists track potential pest outbreaks and provide growers with current information on specific and timely treatments to minimize pesticide applications and maximize potato yield."

The information from the field scouting and electronic weather stations is entered into a Pest Management Hotline, which is a voicemail system operating on a toll-free telephone line. Clients have access to the information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

During the growing season, information on the hotline is updated two times a week, and more frequently if conditions warrant.

"The total economic impact of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Potato integrated pest management program for the 2008 crop year is estimated at $17 million," Cooperative Extension executive director John Rebar says.

The estimate is based on surveys and feedback.

"Comments from growers as well as surveys conducted in previous years indicated an average of two to four applications of fungicide was saved per grower per year," Cooperative Extension crops specialist Steve Johnson. "This was directly as a result of the information and recommendations provided by the hotline."

Johnson says of the respondents, 95 percent saved money by reducing pesticide applications, and 44 percent reported saving more than $2,000 a year by using the information.

Rebar says the program's insect scouting efforts also helped growers avoid unnecessary treatments and identify thresholds in which mitigation was advisable, saving $2 million in expenses or crop losses from aphids, European corn borer and other insects,.

Potatoes are the top agricultural commodity in Maine with nearly 60,000 acres devoted to the crop with an economic value of more than $500 million and employing about 6,000 people.

This year, UMaine Extension and its Canadian counter parts will be working closely together with the hope of further minimizing potato late blight.

UMaine crops specialist James Dwyer says Maine and New Brunswick are essentially a single potato production area.

"Although we're separated by an international border, we have many issues in common, including potato late blight," he says.