With its appetite for berry flesh, the spotted wing drosophila has had a tremendous impact on the cultivation of wild blueberries in Maine and on other berry industries across the country. Currently, the pest is controlled primarily through the use of insecticides, among which there are few effective organic options, leaving organic blueberry growers with few options to manage the economic impact of the pest on their harvest.
Philip Fanning, assistant professor of agricultural entomology at the University of Maine, leads a team of scientists across the country seeking to develop solutions for organic fruit growers to control the pest in an environmentally and economically sustainable way. . The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reward Fanning and his team nearly $3 million for their research on organic management of spotted wing drosophila in fruit crops.
“Organic farmers typically focus on using natural or organic methods to control pests in the fields, and that’s one of the goals of this project,” says Fanning. “Our team’s goal is to integrate more biological control options into existing practices and develop more decision support tools to ensure they are economically feasible.”
Fanning’s team will work closely with stakeholders to develop and expand spotted wing drosophila surveillance, promote beneficial insects in fields that can combat the pest like the wasp, Ganaspis brasiliensiswhich is a newly released biological control agent, and develop a training program to implement organic management strategies. The project will also welcome undergraduate students throughout the summer to develop their knowledge of pest control research and learn about careers in fields related to organic agriculture.
“STEM higher education plays a critical role in training the next generation of professionals, and experiential learning experiences can play a key role in engaging students in research and outreach,” says Fanning. “Another exciting part of this project is that it will include a Research and Learning Experience (RLE) for undergraduate students. Through this, students will develop scientific research knowledge, outreach and analytical skills while learning about careers in fields related to organic agriculture,” Fanning said.
Fanning’s project is one of 18 grants awarded by NIFA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI)which funds research, education and extension projects to improve yields, quality and profitability for producers and processors who have adopted organic standards.
The award started on September 1, 2022 and will run until August 31, 2025.
Contact: Sam Schipani, [email protected]