Alabama farmers looking to control insect pests in their organic vegetable production may have some success with trap crops, based on the results of field trials conducted by Alabama Cooperative Extension.

Trap cropping, a companion planting technique that uses certain plants to draw agricultural pests away from vegetable crops, was not part of the Alabama Cooperative Extension’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program prior to 2010. Then a series of demonstration plots were launched with successful results, said Ayanava Majumdar, an Auburn University Extension entomologist and state ag coordinator for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program.

“Vegetable producers in Alabama face increasing menace of sucking insect pests such as the leaf-footed bug (Leptoglossus phyllopus) and aphids.

Early infestation can cause severe flower and fruit drop in vegetable crops leading to economic losses,” said Majumdar.

“In 2010 and 2011, regional Extension agents belonging to the Commercial Horticulture and Home Grounds Team initiated a series a trap crop demonstration plots to meet the educational needs of vegetable producers statewide.”

The demonstration plots, located in Baldwin, Marengo, Escambia and Colbert counties, incorporated forage sorghum (variety NK300) and okra (variety Clemson Spineless) as trap crops to control leaf-footed bugs and aphids on tomatoes.

“Results indicated that the okra trap crop delayed aphid infestation on tomatoes under moderate insect pressure,” said Majumdar.

“Forage sorghum was highly attractive to the leaf-footed bug and significantly reduced tomato fruit damage in the demonstration plots.” Watch the video: Sorghum trap crop with leaf-footed bugs.

Field days were conducted last year to educate participants about trap cropping for insect management, disease control and water and soil conservation programs. Over 100 vegetable farmers, crop consultants, new and beginning farmers and gardeners attended the IPM field days.

A follow-up survey conducted by Alabama Cooperative Extension indicated that 61 percent of the participants who attended the field days had plans to adopt trap cropping systems on their farms, and over 92 percent supported the continuation of the Extension demonstration plots in 2012.

Tuskegee University partnered with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service to establish the demonstration plots. Extension production meetings are being organized around the state in 2012. Look for updates on the Alabama Vegetable IPM Facebook page.

To learn more about other sustainable agriculture efforts conducted through the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service’s IPM program, visit these links:

Success of IPM exhibitions on reaching to organic producersStatewide vegetable entomology/IPM program outcomes