Researchers at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture are trying to find out if reduced-risk insecticides will control insects in apple orchards in central and western Kentucky.

Kentucky apple growers commonly use insecticides from the organophosphate class to control pests, because they are inexpensive and protect against a broad range of insects. However, since Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, restrictions have tightened each year on organophosphate use. In 2012, some of the organophosphates will be pulled off the market.

In the two-year project, UK researchers Ric Bessin, John Strang, John Hartman and Patty Lucas will study safer insecticides to see if they are able to control two common orchard pests, the codling moth and Oriental fruit moth. In addition, they will explore the factors that have slowed the use of organophosphate alternatives in the past including cost effectiveness, timing of applications and ability to manage a diverse number of pests. The researchers' goal is to show growers a viable alternative to organophosphates.

"We conducted a grower survey in January and 60 percent of them said they weren't afraid to use the newer, safer products, but weren't familiar with them and didn't understand how to use them," said Bessin, UK Extension entomologist. "Some growers are very interested in the new products because they have other benefits than insecticide control."

The two-year project is funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency- Region 4 Strategic Agricultural Initiative.

Researchers began their first year of the project last fall. This spring, orchard growers participating in the study started treating a 3- to 5-acre plot with the reduced-risk insecticides and another plot with the organophosphates. So far, insect pressure varies among the four locations.

"The variability may be due to the orchard's location in the state, history of past pest problems or other chemicals that are being used," Bessin said.

Many of the reduced-risk insecticides have different spray schedules than organophosphates. In another aspect of the study, researchers are trying to determine whether the different application timing has an adverse effect on fungicides.

"We want to make sure there are no unexpected consequences related to disease management because of the timing of the insecticide applications," Bessin said. "Growers may need to apply fungicides differently because of the different insecticide spray schedule."

With results from this study, the researchers will host field days to educate the public on their findings. They will also revise current Extension publications and create new ones to explain how to use the reduced-risk insecticides to effectively manage apple pests.