Crop Tech Corner

Kudzu Bugs Decline, Researchers Ask Why?

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Cuban gene pools may hold valuable traits for disease, pest, and drought resistance, particularly for dry bean breeders. (DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.

BYE, BYE BUGS...BUT WHY?

When kudzu bug populations started ramping up in soybean and other crop fields in 2009, the ag industry braced for a persistent new pest. Now, a marked decline in the bug's populations has left scientists scratching their heads. Two University of Georgia researchers -- entomologist Michael Toews and his graduate student Ian Knight -- are on the case. Much research lies ahead, but for now, it appears that natural predators may have been more effective than expected, according to university press release.

The kudzu bug, which comes from Asia, invaded Georgia in 2009. The pest took to its new southern home quickly. It rapidly infested soybean fields and spread across the Mississippi River and as far north as Maryland. Starting in 2014, its populations slowed, though, much to the relief of farmers. Two potential heroes have been identified. The first is a parasitic wasp species called Paratelenomus saccharalis, which surfaced mysteriously in the U.S. a few years after the kudzu bug arrived. The second is a fungus, Beauveria bassiana, which is common to the Southeast. The fungus first caught Knight's attention when it killed off the overwintering kudzu bugs that he was trying to study. Other pest predators might emerge with more research.

Knight and other researchers are urging growers to remain vigilant about the pest, which could ramp up populations under the right conditions. You can read the University of Georgia press release here: http://bit.ly/…, and read more about kudzu bugs here: http://www.kudzubug.org/….

BIG BUCKS FOR TINY TECHNOLOGY

In March, USDA doled out $5.2 million in grants to 11 U.S. universities to do research on nanotechnology, with a focus on improving food safety, renewable fuels, crop yields and managing agricultural pests. Here are some highlights from the research efforts funded:

-- The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven received $480,000 to examine how tiny plant particles help crops suppress disease, take up nutrients and increase yield.

-- The University of Florida received $477,000 to use nanotechnology to design highly specific and targeted pesticide particles to help tomatoes fight off bacterial spot strains which have become resistant to Copper-based bactericides.

-- Iowa State University received 478,000 to develop the nano-manufacturing techniques needed to build biosensors that can test a single sample of water, soil or food for multiple pesticides on the spot.

See more information on the USDA-funded projects here: http://1.usa.gov/….

THE HUNT FOR MORE NUTRITIOUS WHEAT

A team of researchers from India are working to bring wheat with greater zinc content to market. They've targeted impoverished parts of India, where dwindling crop diversity has led to malnutrition problems, including zinc deficiency. Without enough zinc in their diets, people are prone to diarrhea, skin and respiratory disorders, according to a news release from the scientists.

The Indian team sorted through thousands of lines of wheat looking for varieties that had both high yield and high zinc content. Most modern wheat houses about 29 parts per million (ppm) of zinc. The researchers isolated varieties that produced up to 45 ppm and put them through field trials. They've now released two of those varieties to 5,000 farmers. More work is ahead; the varieties must clear more field trials, tests and regulatory clearances, but the scientists are optimistic. "Seven other varieties are currently undergoing disease testing, and in the next few years, many other zinc-rich wheat crops will be ready for cultivation," they said in their news release.

See the release here: http://bit.ly/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

(AG/CZ)

Emily Unglesbee