OFRF Awards Grant to Develop Integrated Pest and Pollinator Strategies for Organic Strawberries

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Although strawberry production is an important industry in Florida, with 11,000 acres and a production value of over $300 million (USDA 2014), the state lags behind other regions in certified organic acreage. In an effort to support more organic production, OFRF has awarded a grant to researchers from the University of Florida to develop integrated pest and pollinator management strategies on certified organic land.

One of the main pests causing problems not just for strawberry growers in Florida, but for many crops worldwide, are thrips. Overuse of spinosyn insecticides in recent years has led to reports of area-wide resistance, triggering the need for research on alternative control strategies. The research team at the University of Florida is looking for ways to increase zoophytophagous minute pirate bug (Orius insidiosus and O. pumilio in Florida) populations, which have proven to be very effective in eradicating thrips, but are less abundant in fields likely due to lack of habitat and/or use of harmful insecticides. As has been shown in other systems, intentional use of flowering plants is an effective method for increasing Orius.

Another problem for organic growers is the decline of bee populations, which can be linked to agricultural intensification and the resulting loss of foraging and nesting habitat, among other factors. It is widely believed that creating bee habitat in farmland, enhancing existing bee habitat adjacent to farms, or supplementing bee floral resources, allows greater bee survival, reproduction, and crop pollination.

The primary objective of the team at the University of Florida, led by Dr. Justin M. Renkema, is to determine the effect and feasibility of flowering plants as resource subsidies for beneficial insects. They will be collaborating with Sam Astin and Tres McQuag at the Astin Strawberry Exchange, who will provide assistance in collecting yield data and maintaining flowering plants.

The extension objective of this project is to provide strawberry growers with new knowledge on the efficacy of using flowering plants in strawberry fields for improving pollinators and natural enemies, and reducing pest thrips.