March 26, 2009

Study: Soybean aphid pest battle a success

A U.S. agriculture economist says the fight against the destructive soybean aphid is a success that will pay big dividends during the coming years.

Michigan State University Professor Scott Swinton says state and federal governments have spent $17 million on soybean aphid research and education since 2003. Swinton said the net economic benefit of that integrated pest management work should reach $1.3 billion during the next 15 years.

This is an example of what a good payoff you can get as a result of long-term research, Swinton said. There's been a half century of research into integrated pest management. In the process a lot of techniques were developed and lots of understanding was gained about the relationships between crop and pest life cycles, infestations and the weather to decide when it's necessary to control them without wasting money and creating health risks.

Controls are now put into action only after a carefully determined cost-effectiveness threshold is crossed. Fewer than 250 aphids per plant, for example, probably won't impact soybean yield and early use of insecticides could kill beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps, Swinton said.

For me it's almost like having a good national defense system in case you're attacked in a time of war, he added.

Swinton and doctoral student Feng Song presented their research this week in Portland, Ore., during the International IPM Symposium.