Auburn University Entomologist Henry Fadamiro and a multi-disciplinary team of scientists have been awarded a four-year, $881,829 grant by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to develop and demonstrate successful integrated pest management, or IPM, strategies for the organic production of cabbage, collard, broccoli and other high-value cruciferous vegetable crops in Alabama and surrounding states.

The ultimate goal of the research and outreach project, titled “Development and Participatory Implementation of Integrated Organic Pest Management Strategies for Crucifer Vegetable Production in the South,” is to increase the production and profitability of organically grown crucifers in this region of the country.

“Crucifers are perhaps the most difficult vegetables to produce organically in the South due to high susceptibility to pests,” said Fadamiro, who, in addition to research and academic responsibilities, serves as state coordinator of integrated pest management for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“Organic producers and small farmers in Alabama and surrounding states cite insects and diseases as their major challenges in growing these crops.

“In our work, we will identify and develop effective, affordable and sustainable pest management tactics for reducing these risks and then encourage farmers to adopt them,” he said. “In addition to boosting organic vegetable production and farm income in the region, this grant will result in reduced human-health risks due to pesticide residues in foods.”

Pest control approach

Integrated pest management is a pest control approach in which growers use a variety of economically and environmentally acceptable practices, such as tillage systems, traps and beneficial insects, turning to chemical pesticides only as a last resort.

In the first phases of the organic crucifer production project, Fadamiro and his research collaborators from Auburn—including plant pathology professor Joe Kloepper, organic vegetable production research fellow Jan Garrett, Extension entomologist Ayanava Majumdar and agricultural economics associate professor Deacue Fields—and from Alabama A&M University and the University of Florida will investigate the effectiveness of a number of IPM tactics that are approved under federal organic production standards, including trap crops that lure pests away from the cash crops, attractants, biocontrol techniques, biopesticides and induced disease resistance.

On-farm research trials will be part of the project, Fadamiro said, noting that at least 10 organic vegetable growers across the state have signed on to participate in the study.

Other major components of the project will include analyses of the costs of integrating IPM tools into production systems, identifying possible barriers to on-farm adoption and, finally, transferring the technology to producers through training and education.

Fadamiro’s proposal was one of only 23 projects nationwide selected to receive a portion of a total $19 million in funding awarded through NIFA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and its Organic Transitions Program, both of which aim to help organic producers and processors grow and market high-quality organic agricultural products.