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.
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
“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
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.
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,
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
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