The award is given each year to the team that successfully implements an integrated pest management (IPM) solution to an agricultural pest problem. The Pacific Northwest Vineyard IPM team, led by entomologist Doug Walsh, and based at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser, devised an innovative technique that virtually eliminated cutworm bud damage on grapevines.
The vineyard solution saves growers about $5.5 million a year and has resulted in an 84 percent (about 25,000 pounds per year) reduction in pesticide use.
Previously difficult to control, Walsh said that cutworm “wakes up hungry in the spring” and immediately sets out to devour the buds where grape clusters form. Before Walsh and his team approached the problem, treatment consisted of an organophosphate insecticide “with negative environmental consequences,” Walsh said. The organophosphate insecticide also killed beneficial insects while only marginally controlling cutworm.
Walsh’s research team came up with the idea of applying insecticides in a highly targeted fashion that took advantage of the cutworm’s biology and avoided impacts to beneficial insects. By spraying a pyrethroid (rather than organophosphate) insecticide on the trunk of the vine where it meets the soil, cutworms are discouraged from climbing up from the soil where they dwell to the buds where they create damage.
The technique worked extremely well in early trials, so the challenge was adapting it to commercial-scale use. Walsh knew that herbicides were being applied to the vineyard floors with sprayers that used motion sensors that prevented the trunks of grape vines from being sprayed with damaging herbicides. Was it possible to use this technology to target the trunk instead?
“I asked a technician, ‘How difficult would it be to switch it over so that you just treated the trunk with an insecticide? And it was great. The technician leaned over, pulled out the two wires that connected it, crossed them over and plugged them back in.” The simplicity of this solution, utilizing existing technology with a twist, was a key to its rapid adoption by the industry.
“The growers started using this solution,” said Walsh “and it was a real cost savings to them. They were using very little insecticide and getting very good control. The grower response within two years was universal. At this point I think every grower around here has adopted this practice in some form.”
In addition to Walsh, the award-winning team was composed of WSU research and Extension personnel Holly Ferguson, Ron Wight, Tim Waters and Sally O’Neal Coates. Industry collaborators were Len Welch, an entomologist with Valent USA, an agrochemical company, Leif Olsen of Olsen Wine Estates, Kevin Corliss of Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, and Sandy Halstead of EPA Region 10.