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New IFAS study shows corn plants help control major mite pest

Topic(s): Agriculture, Biocontrols, Crops, Entomology and Nematology, Environment, IFAS, New Technology, Pests, RECs, Research

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Add one more entry to corn’s list of abilities: helping to biologically control pests.

Already a source of food and biofuel, University of Florida researchers report in a new study that corn plants can help sustain populations of small, flying insects known as gall midges in order to control twospotted spider mites.

Spider mites are hard-to-manage, major pests of hundreds of ornamental and vegetable crops.

In the study, which is published in the current issue of Crop Protection, the highly mobile midge could find spider mites from more than 23 feet away and controlled more than 81 percent of spider mites on green beans in a greenhouse test.

The corn provides a supply of non-pest mites to feed gall midges when spider mite populations run low.

This is known as a banker plant system since the corn plant stores, or “banks,” extra prey for midges. And by using the midge to control spider mites, the system reduces the need for pesticides.

“Anything you can do to manage spider mites without using pesticides is going to be a major benefit,” said Lance Osborne, an entomologist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and co-author of the study. Osborne is based at the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka.

Spider mites quickly build resistance to pesticides and become nearly impossible to control, Osborne said.

Growers interested in using this system may contact Osborne for more information by email at lsosborn@ufl.edu or by calling 407-884-2034, ext. 163. The system was tested on green beans but could be applied to different greenhouse-grown crops, such as tomatoes.

Study co-authors include postdoctoral associate researcher Yingfang Xiao, associate professor Jianjun Chen, lab technician Katherine Houben and research assistant Fabieli Irizarry — all with IFAS, and Cindy McKenzie, research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Fort Pierce. The Environmental Protection Agency, the USDA Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative and UF/IFAS funded the research.

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Contacts:

Writer: Robert H. Wells, 352-273-3569, rhwells@ufl.edu

Source: Lance Osborne, 407- 884-2034, ext. 163, lsosborn@ufl.edu

Photo Cutline:

A gall midge is shown in this photo. The midge can be used in a corn banker plant system to biologically control twospotted spider mites in greenhouse production settings. Photo by Lance Osborne, entomology professor and associate center director at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida REC.

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