April 28, 2009
Contact: see list at end of release

NNY Spring Roundup of Alfalfa Snout Beetle Begins;
Development of Two Control Methods for Crop Pest Progressing

Northern NY - Cornell University entomologist Elson Shields and his research team have begun collecting 20,000 Alfalfa Snout Beetles to continue development of methods for controlling the invasive insect that can cause substantive damage to alfalfa crops, impacting the production and profitability of dairy and livestock farms across Northern New York.

Years of work by the researchers, funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, and New York Farm Viability Institute, are paying off with two options for reducing populations of the insect that feeds on a wide range of plants, but prefers alfalfa. (Photo: Alfalfa Snout Beetle adult. Credit: Cornell University)

Nematodes Knock-Down Pest Populations
After treatment with native NY nematodes that feed on the alfalfa pest, fields previously heavily-infested with Alfalfa Snout Beetle (ASB) on the John Peck Farm near Great Bend, NY, showed a dramatic drop in ASB populations.

“The field results produced on Northern New York farms showed the nematodes were able to maintain themselves in the field while reducing the larval populations of the Alfalfa Snout Beetle and reducing or eliminating feeding injury to the alfalfa crops,” Shields says.

In Lewis County, dairyman Bernhard Gohlert provided fields for the Cornell researchers to test methods to apply the nematodes. He says, “I have seen less beetles as the nematodes have spread. Alfalfa is a major dairy crop that I do not want to do without. Cows can make a lot of milk with alfalfa for less cost than other feed crops.

I am glad the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program and Cornell took on the research to deal with Alfalfa Snout Beetle. Without this research that began years ago, the problem today could easily be out of control. Instead, we have solutions. This is a success story not only for the North Country, but for New York state as we develop methods for preventing further spread of the pest,” Gohlert adds.

Shields is currently developing a cost-effective method for farmers to “grow” and apply their own nematodes to control ASB.

“We think the protocol for using nematodes will require only one inoculation per field with farm-grown persistent nematode strains to reduce the snout beetle population on a farm,” Shields says. “The nematodes in combination with planting ASB-resistant alfalfa varieties may just be the long-term biological solution the region’s agricultural industry needs.”

Field Testing of Beetle-Resistant Alfalfa Underway
The beetles collected by the researchers this spring will be used to stress alfalfa growing in the Cornell plant breeding lab in Ithaca, NY, where progress is being made with developing ASB-resistant varieties as an additional line of defense for farmers.

Cornell researchers began selectively breeding alfalfa for ASB-resistance in 1998 using plant populations showing damage ranging from 3.7 to 4.8. (A rating of 5 equals a dead plant.)

“We selected New York-grown varieties as well as importing varieties from Hungary where Alfalfa Snout Beetle is native but less destructive,” Cornell plant breeder Dr. Donald R. Viands says.

Shields and research assistant Antonia Testa developed a greenhouse screening protocol and by 2008 several varieties had entered their fifth and sixth generation of selection for ASB-resistance.

Viands says, “We have seen promising trends of less and less root damage on the greenhouse-grown alfalfa and are eager to see how well the experimental plant populations showing the greatest potential for resistance perform on the farms in Northern New York.”  (Photo: Alfalfa Snout Beetle (ASB) feeding damage on roots of alfalfa. Field work on NNY farms is developing successful methods for controlling ASB. Credit: Cornell University)

Field testing began on April 21, 2008, on Sheland Farms in Belleville, NY.

Doug Shelmidine, one of the farm’s owners, says, “We planted last year about the time the adult beetles were emerging. The later evaluation showed some seedling damage that may explain thin areas in the fields, but only a few of the alfalfa plant roots showed beetle feeding damage.”

Viands says, “We do not know yet if the ASB-resistance levels achieved so far in the greenhouse are sufficient to protect alfalfa crops in the field. We need more field trials as we continue to breed for resistance at the Cornell lab.”

The April 2009 field test plots at Sheland Farms will be planted after the risk of early feeding by emerging ASB.

“In addition to collecting the beetles for the lab work, we will be surveying for the emergence of the adult beetles in a number of fields in the Northern New York region,” Shields says.

Alfalfa Snout Beetle is known to exist on approximately 13 percent of New York’s agricultural land. A 2006 survey funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program showed ASB to be present in all six NNY counties: Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence. The beetle is also known to exist in Cayuga, Wayne and Oswego counties, and southeastern Ontario.

“The New York Farm Viability Institute funding for this project reflects concerns we heard from New York farmers. The alfalfa snout beetle can devastate fields, and we are interested in solutions to controlling this pest, and making sure the problem does not spread deeper into the state,’’ says Tom Sleight, executive director of the NY Farm Viability Institute.

The Alfalfa Snout Beetle is about as long as a human thumbnail with a tough gray shell. The insect is wingless and migrates by walking, often causing large dark moving masses along rural roadsides. It also spreads by traveling on trucks and farm equipment. ASB is believed to have first arrived in the U.S. in the ballast of sailing ships arriving in Oswego in the 1800s.

Learn more about the battle with Alfalfa Snout Beetle on the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program website at www.nnyagdev.org.  # # #

Contacts: Cornell University: entomologist Elson Shields, 607-255-8428; plant breeder Donald R. Viands, 607-255-3081; Cornell Cooperative Extension: Clinton County: Amy Ivy,
518- 561-7450; Essex County: Anita Deming, 518-962-4810; Franklin County: Carl Tillinghast: 518-483-7403; St. Lawrence County: Stephen Canner, 315-379-9192; Jefferson County: Mike Hunter, 315-788-8450; Lewis County: Joe Lawrence, 315-376-5270