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Whitefly nymphs on lettuce

Entomology - John Palumbo

My role as vegetable entomologist at the Yuma Agricultural Center is through a split appointment (70% research, 30% extension) with responsibility for developing a vigorous, contemporary research program on the biology and management of arthropods associated with leafy vegetables and melons . The position was created in 1990 in response to needs for applied research on local insect problems associated with desert vegetable production. Because of the magnitude of the industry in Arizona, and the increasing economic burden and environmental uncertainty associated with pesticide use, my research and extension programs are primarily focused on integrated pest management.

Most of my efforts have focused on investigating ways to minimize pest damage and reduce pesticide use without sacrificing crop quality and productivity. My objectives have been to accomplish this from a fundamental approach by gaining a better understanding of insect ecology & insect-crop interactions, and from a more practical approach by developing methods to optimize the use of new insecticide chemistries and application technologies.
The goal of my research/extension program is to gain a fundamental understanding of insect ecology and apply this knowledge to the development of innovative pest management strategies in vegetable cropping systems. I have ongoing projects to investigate insect-crop interactions, both in the field and laboratory. The goal of this work is to determine the relationships between insect feeding and plant injury. In particular, I have focused my work on the impact of silverleaf whitefly, Bemisia argentifolii on the growth, yield and quality of leafy vegetables and melons. This information provides insight into the basic interactions occurring between plants and insects, and has been used to develop action thresholds and other control decision guidelines to assist growers with insect management activities.
I have also concentrated my efforts on examining ways to monitor and sample insects on vegetable crops. The goal of this work is to quantify and statistically describe spatial distribution patterns of insect populations for the development of sampling protocols that provide precise estimates of species abundance for use in ecological research. Ultimately, my goal is to develop practical and reliable sampling plans that provide an assessment of pest status for the effective utilization of control tactics in pest management programs. We have recently developed and validated a presence/absence sampling plan that is used in our research activities and by growers in commercial melon crops.
I have a significant interest in examining the chemical management of insects and investigating techniques to better utilize pesticides in crop production. I have focused my efforts on several insect species found on leafy vegetables and melons such as cabbage looper, beet armyworm, Liriomyza leafminers, silverleaf whitefly, green peach aphid and western flower thrips. My goals are to optimize pesticide performance by gaining a better understanding of insecticide chemistries and their interactions with the target pest and cropping system. We continually evaluate chemistries with new modes of action, as well as investigate alternative uses for existing insecticides and biological control tactics. Additionally, I am examining ways to reduce pesticide use with new pesticide application technology designed to improve spray coverage and deposition.

My goals in extension have been to provide empirically-based information on the management of insect populations in vegetable crops that can be directly applied by growers throughout Arizona. My extension efforts have been closely associated with my research program and are usually initiated in response to serious insect problems occurring in local cropping systems. I also serve as state IPM coordinator and the IR-4 liason representative for Arizona.

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