Russians to fight alfalfa snout beetle with expert help

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Melissa Osgood

Russian farmers are visiting northern New York state to meet with a Cornell expert and learn how to tackle devastating alfalfa snout beetles native to their homeland.

Four Russians will arrive in Ithaca on June 28 and attend meetings and tour farms in Jefferson County June 29. They represent EkoNiva, one of Russia’s large agro-holdings (500,000 acres), producing 520 tons of milk a day, the most in Europe.

Last year, the company lost some 14,000 acres of alfalfa for dairy forage to alfalfa snout beetles (ASB).

Cornell entomologist Elson Shields, research support specialist Antonio Testa, and colleagues have developed a successful biocontrol system using native nematodes for managing ASB.

“No one else in the world has been working to solve the problem, so they [the Russian group] asked to come and learn how we manage snout beetle here,” said Shields, professor of entomology.

ASB larvae have ravaged alfalfa fields across half a million acres in nine New York counties and southeastern Ontario, Canada. There are no other known ASB infestations in North America, but the beetle has been spreading since first arriving from Europe through the port of Oswego, New York, in 1896.

Long-term funding, since 1987, from the farmer-driven Northern New York Agriculture Development Program provided Shields the time and support to develop the definitive guide to ASB and to create a science-based, cost-effective biocontrol method. Testa developed a nematode-rearing greenhouse protocol and is currently raising 60 billion nematodes for applications to northern New York fields this summer.

Approximately 10,000 acres across 65 farms have been treated with nematodes. Research shows only one application is needed to prompt success.

Concurrently, Don Viands, professor of plant breeding and genetics, Jamie Crawford, a research support specialist, and Julie Hansen, a senior research associate, have selectively bred ASB-resistant varieties of alfalfa, which add another layer of protection when planted in tandem with application of the ASB larvae-killing nematodes.

The Russian group will meet with Kevin Putnam, a New York/New England dairy specialist with DuPont Pioneer, a seed producer coordinating the tour; receive a lecture from Shields; and visit dairy farms where Shields’ biocontrol system has successfully restored alfalfa production.

The Russian group also travelled to Colorado and Wisconsin to study other farming practices. 

“This is a great opportunity to bring together the university, international farmers and industry partners to share best practices,” said Putnam. “We hope to continue these efforts in the future.”

Funding for the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program is supported by the New York State Senate and administered through the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.


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