Potatoes USA-Supported Research Into Neonic Alternatives Receives USDA Funding

Published online: Dec 05, 2023 Articles
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) recently announced funding for a four-year, Potatoes USA-supported research project to develop and evaluate potential alternatives to neonicotinoids for pest management of potato crops.

Why it matters: Neonicotinoids (commonly called “neonics”) are a type of insecticide that has seen widespread usage in the U.S. for 25 years. Neonics have been a critical tool for potato growers given their ease of use and low application cost.

However, environmental concerns have shifted companies and consumer demand away from purchasing potatoes that use neonics. Critics have linked widespread neonic usage with rising resistance among pest populations, harm to pollinators, and environmental contamination.

For example, major retailers like Walmart and Costco have encouraged fresh produce suppliers to phase out the use of neonics in recent years.

Goals: The long-term goal of the research project is to develop and adopt new pest management strategies in the U.S. potato industry that serve as an effective alternative to neonics. To accomplish this, the project—called “Enhancing integrated insect pest management strategies for U.S. potato production systems” and nicknamed “Potato IPM”—has four objectives:

  • Objective 1: Develop and evaluate non-neonic pest strategies in ware and seed potatoes.
  • Objective 2: Develop pest prediction and decision-making tools.
  • Objective 3: Evaluate the socioeconomic influences and impacts associated with transitioning from neonics to new pest management strategies.
  • Objective 4: Facilitate the adoption of new strategies among growers.

Potatoes USA’s support: Potatoes USA’s Potato Research Advisory Committee (PRAC) selected the Potato IPM project to submit to USDA’s SCRI. PRAC supported the Potato IPM submission with 51 letters of support from national organizations, regional and state organizations, processors, regulators, research entities, and growers in 12 states.

Background: PRAC meets each year to discuss research proposals submitted to various funding sources, with SCRI being one of the most popular submission sources. Since 2016, PRAC’s efforts have helped six projects led by potato scientists win $38.8 million in funding for the industry.

Meet the Potato IPM Team:

Project Director

Zsofia Szendrei is a professor in the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University, where she researches chemical ecology, biological control, habitat management, and behavioral pest management in addition to her teaching and extension work.

“I’m excited to provide leadership to the team of researchers, to collaborate with our grower advisory panel, and with Potatoes USA over the next four years of the project. I’m also looking forward to the many exciting results that will be produced as a result of this funding to help potato growers across the U.S.

Email: szendrei@msu.edu

Objectives: 1, 2, 3 and 4

Co-Project Director

David Douches has over 40 years of experience in potato breeding, genetics, and biotechnology, having led the potato breeding and genetics project at Michigan State University since 1988. His program has targeted for improvement traits like Colorado potato beetle resistance, disease resistance to scab, late blight, PVY, and chip processing from long-term storage.

“I am excited to work with the entomologists to identify potato lines with insect resistance that can reduce insecticide use.”

Email: douchesd@msu.edu

Objectives: 1

Principal Investigator

Brian Nault is a professor and program leader in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University’s AgriTech campus in Geneva, New York. For the past 26 years, his research and extension program has broadly covered applied insect ecology and vegetable entomology.

“As a PhD student in the early 1990s, I studied the biology and management of the Colorado potato beetle when infestations were nearly impossible to control until the neonicotinoid imidacloprid (Admire) became available in 1995. Nearly 30 years later, I am excited to work with a team of world-renowned entomologists to identify alternatives to neonicotinoids for managing this important potato pest and others.”
Email: ban6@cornell.edu

Objectives: 1A (Lead), 1C, 2 and 4

Principal Investigator

Jessica Goldberger is a professor of rural sociology in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Washington State University. Her research focuses on the adoption and diffusion of agricultural innovations. She is particularly interested in how alternative agricultural practices can contribute to environmental, social, and economic sustainbility goals.

“It is essential to study the people involved in agriculture. For this project, I’m excited to better understand how potato growers make pest management decisions during times of regulatory uncertainty.”

Email: jgoldberger@wsu.edu

Objectives: 3

Principal Investigator

Katie Dentzman is an assistant professor of rural sociology at Iowa State University. She specializes in transdisciplinary agri-food research at the intersection of environmental and social sustainability.

“I’ve spent a lot of time studying human dimensions of herbicide resistance and am thrilled to be able to expand that line of research into neonicitinoid use.”

Email: dentzman@iastate.edu

Objectives: 3

Principal Investigator

Paul Mitchell is a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also an extension state specialist for cropping systems and environmental management, as well as director of the Renk Agribusiness Institute. He has been on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin since 2004, where he runs an active research, teaching, and outreach program focused broadly on agriculture.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with leaders in potato pest management from around the U.S. to help develop the next generation of pest management strategies.”

Email: pdmitchell@wisc.edu

Objectives: 3

Principal Investigator

Russell Groves is a professor and chairperson in the Department of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison focused on management of insects and vegetable crops. He has responsibilities for insect pests affecting all scales of production including commercial, organic, and fresh market vegetables.

“We are excited to be part of a great team, which will generate critical new information about the key pests of potato in the U.S. together with the development of sustainable and economical management solutions.”

Email: rgroves@wisc.edu

Objectives: 1A, 1C, 2A, 2B, 2C, 4

Principal Investigator

Tim Waters is a professor, regional vegetable specialist, and Franklin County director for Washington State University (WSU) Extension in Franklin and Benton counties. He is a faculty member in the Entomology and Horticulture departments of WSU. He works with commercial vegetable producers in the Columbia Basin where he focuses on integrated pest management and horticulture production issues on a variety of crops.

“I am excited to help develop IPM programs that help potato growers maintain control of key insect pests while preserving the yield and quality of their crops. Notably, I look forward to increasing adoption of our decision aid support system as a way to improve IPM of potatoes in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”

Email: twaters@wsu.edu

Objectives: 1A, 1C, 2C, 4

Principal Investigator

Gina Angelella is a research entomologist for the USDA-ARS at the Temperate Tree Fruit and Vegetable Research Unit in Wapato, Washington. Her lab studies the biology, ecology, and behavior of insect vectors of potato plant pathogens and the development of effective tools for outbreak prevention and mitigation.

“It’s exciting and humbling to be a part of this team with such well-respected scientists to help identify management options for potato growers.”

Email: gina.angelella@usda.gov

Objectives: 1B

Principal Investigator

Andrei Alyokhin is a professor of applied entomology at the University of Maine, where he works mostly in potato agroecosystems and recently started looking at insect-mediated recycling of organic wastes. He has authored or co-authored 199 publications, including 90 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals.

“When I was starting my career as an entomologist working on potatoes, imidacloprid revolutionized insect management in this crop. Now that neonicotinoids are on the way out, it is exciting to be a part of the next revolution.”

Email: alyokhin@maine.edu

Objectives: 1A, 1B, 2, 4

Principal Investigator

Punya Nachappa is an associate professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University, where her research program focuses on understanding the interactions between plants, pathogens, and insect vectors as a means of managing plant pests and diseases.

“I am most excited about developing decision-making tools for aphid vectors of potato virus Y (PVY) through the expansion of the DAS to Colorado. Our potato growers and industry stakeholders will greatly benefit from it!”

Email: punya.nachappa@colostate.edu

Objectives: 2

Principal Investigator

David Crowder is an associate professor in the Department of Entomology at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman and director of the Decision Support Aid (DAS) system at WSU. His program focuses broadly on integrated pest management and landscape ecology, and it has included projects that develop predictive models to better understand how insect communities vary across agricultural landscapes that can lead to advancements in pest management.

Email: dcrowder@wsu.edu

Objectives: 2

The team will also include:

Co-Principal Investigator: Bee Chim, an assistant extension professor at the University of Maine in Presque Isle whose research and extension program focus on developing integrated crop management techniques that improve yields by optimizing external inputs.

Collaborator: Carrie Wohleb, a professor and regional vegetable crops specialist at Washington State University in Moses Lake whose research and extension program focus on evaluating new production practices and pest and disease management strategies on large potato farms.

Collaborator: Steven Whittington, a field crops educator at Michigan State University, whose responsibilities are related to educating growers on pest management and other agronomic issues in field crops.

The project team would like to thank Andy Jensen, manager of the Northwest Potato Research Consortium, a cooperation in research funding and facilitation by the state potato commissions of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Jensen is retiring in 2023, but he has been invaluable to the team collaboration and proposal.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) award number 2023-51181-41160.