Cornell entomologist Elson Shields holds an alfalfa plant showing good root development and no damage by alfalfa snout beetle at a farmers' field day event in Belleville, NY. Shields helped develop a strategy to combat the pest using resistant varieties of alfalfa and nematodes that eat the pest.
New York youth may be able to earn money and help battle the crop-destroying, invasive alfalfa snout beetle that has plagued New York counties since 1989.
The beetle has infested more than 13% of New York farmland, or 500,000 acres in nine counties, and can destroy entire fields in one growing season. Crop damage can be as much as $1,100-$1,500/acre for the complete loss of untreated second- and third-year crops, according to Cornell University entomologist Elson Shields and the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program.
Using farm-raised biocontrol nematodes is an inexpensive farmer-friendly way to control alfalfa snout beetle, according to a program release. The treatment combines two types of Northern New York-native nematodes that co-exist, respectively, in both shallow and deeper soil. Those microscopic worms would be raised and released in at-risk fields.
“We see the potential of rearing nematodes for sale by our 4-H students and local horticultural businesses. There is already interest here by a custom applicator-seed dealer in the commercial production of nematodes,” says Brent Buchanan, St. Lawrence County Extension team leader. FFA students and farm youth had helped test how to rear and apply the nematodes.
A joint project between the Cornell Alfalfa Breeding Team and the Shields lab is selectively breeding alfalfa varieties resistant to alfalfa snout beetle to work with biocontrol nematodes. At least one Cornell-bred, snout-beetle-resistant variety is in early stages of commercial seed production.
The flightless and all-female beetle has walked or “hitchhiked” on equipment and transport vehicles to reach new locations from Oswego to Cayuga, Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Wayne counties in New York state. It is also known to exist in Ontario.
For more information, check out Rearing & Applying Nematodes to Control Alfalfa Snout Beetle. Or read our story, Nematodes Thwart Alfalfa Snout Beetles.