An entomologist formerly with USDA aims to help growers in Malheur County, Ore., control key pests while reducing their use of pesticides in his new job with Oregon State University.
Stuart Reitz, who was with the USDA in Tallahassee, Fla., since 1999, has already begun his work as a field crops expert in Ontario, Ore.
In his new position, he will help farmers increase the number of "good" insects that kill crop-damaging pests like thrips, an insect that transmits a virus that can seriously reduce the yield and size of onions. In potatoes, he'll identify and study insects that attack aphids and psyllids, also as jumping plant lice.
Reitz will also help growers determine the optimum amounts of fertilizer to apply to crops, since too much fertilizer can attract unwanted pests.
"It's a holistic way of figuring out the most effective way to control pests," he says. "We like to think of it as a win-win situation. Growers can produce a better crop with fewer pests and fewer inputs."
Reitz is also helping local producers determine how best to use chemicals to reduce their environmental impact and to keep pests from becoming resistant to them.
He will e-mail and send text messages to farmers with updates on pests, and he'll post information on a website of the Pacific Northwest and Treasure Valley Pest Alert Network.
His duties include helping farmers comply with new, more restrictive federal rules for fumigating fields that took effect last month. Among other requirements, farmers must now have a large buffer area around fields and ensure field workers have appropriate training to handle chemicals.
"There's no beating around the bush – these are hazardous chemicals and at the end of the sprayer is dangerous stuff," he says. "People need to be careful with it."