Spotlight on North Central Field Crop Extension Entomologists

Extension field crop entomologists in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) North Central Region were looking for a platform for networking and sharing knowledge when they formed a working group in 2007 and were funded by a grant from the North Central Integrated Pest Management Center (NCIPMC) a year later. Funding for Field Crop Extension Entomologists had declined greatly over the previous decade, and many states had only one faculty member covering these large acreage crops in a state.

During the first two years the working group focused on creating a peer-reviewed, open-access Extension journal, the Journal of IPM. The journal is now maintained by the Entomological Society of America and is self-sustaining with contributors paying a fee with submissions. Marlin Rice and Kevin Steffey, the first co-chairs of this working group, are the co-editors (http://jipm.oxfordjournals.org/). The Working Group is now co-chaired by Robert Wright, University of Nebraska and Erin Hodgson, Iowa State University.

When the group was forming they held annual meetings so the group could meet face-to-face. The annual meetings provided a platform for problem-solving, sharing resources and promoting activities.

The group also created a web platform that serves as a virtual bulletin board. Members post questions and their colleagues weigh in with timely and knowledgeable answers. Participants can also post observations and share information with their peers year-round.

An every-other-week conference call during the growing season provides a virtual water cooler to gather around as the Extension entomologists share information about insect concerns in their states and touch base with their counterparts in the 12-state region. The working group now has members in several states outside the North Central region and from two Canadian provinces.

Wright noted that many pest insects migrate during the growing season, often from the South, so this sharing often gives other entomologists a heads up about what may be heading their way. He also said the group takes on a mentoring role when new staff are hired because they don’t always have fellow Extension Field Crop Entomology faculty in their department.

The Extension Entomologist working group has also organized symposia  at regional, national and even international meetings to highlight current IPM issues. And the working group doesn’t shy away from what could be termed controversial issues. For example, members of the group submitted opinions on sulfoxaflor insecticide, a reduced risk pesticide for soybean aphid control when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was reviewing it.

After noting that many land grant university Entomology departments in the region lacked expertise in stored product IPM  working group members collaborated in 2014 to develop a webinar on Stored Grain Integrated Pest Management in the North Central United States.  

Most recently Working Group members developed a consensus document outlining the research behind current economic thresholds for soybean aphids after an industry group was promoting a much lower threshold not supported by research.  This was published online (http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/soybean/pest/soybean-aphid/soybean-aphid-biology-and-economics/) and distributed through social media and reprinted in several land grant universities’ Extension Crop newsletters.

The North Central Field Crop Extension Entomologists Working Group continues to adapt and change to provide a platform for members to network and share resources and information in a timely manner.