Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dr. Kevin Ong Named Director of the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory

Dr. Kevin Ong, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service plant pathologist, has been named director of the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory.

Ong replaces the laboratory’s founder, Dr. Larry Barnes, who retired at the end of August, said Dr. David Appel, associate department head in plant pathology and microbiology at Texas A&M University.

“We were lucky to have Larry here to establish such a good diagnostic clinic, and we were lucky to have had Kevin here to take over,” Appel said.

Ong will oversee this nationally acclaimed laboratory in College Station that has provided diagnostic services for the state since 1981, Appel said.

The laboratory is responsible for providing AgriLife Extension education efforts in diseases of greenhouse crops, nursery crops, landscape ornamental plants and indoor plants, he said. Biosecurity issues also have been added to the clinic’s list of responsibilities.

“Larry left big shoes to fill,” Ong said, “but I’m looking forward to the new challenge.”

Prior to his new appointment, Ong spent six years as an AgriLife Extension urban plant pathologist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1993 from Pennsylvania State University, a master’s degree in biology in 1997 from Temple University and a doctorate degree in plant pathology in 2001 from Clemson University.

“Kevin has a terrific personality to work with our clientele,” Appel said. “And he’s got a very strong background in plant pathology.

“We just felt there was nobody better anywhere in the country that would be able to step in and live up to the standards that have been set out there,” he said.

Colleagues around the state will applaud Ong’s appointment as they celebrate Barnes’ fine career, Appel said.

Barnes, who earned his doctorate degree from Texas A&M in 1983, spent 27 years overseeing the diagnostic laboratory.

“He consolidated all of the diagnostic efforts into one lab and built it up from scratch to become one of the premier diagnostic labs in the country,” Appel said. “It is recognized as such by his peers.”

Barnes also is recognized as the best ornamental plant pathologist in the state, Appel said. He has done a great deal of applied research on disease control involving several ornamentals. He has the respect of professionals in the nursery industry and hundreds of volunteer Master Gardeners who he helped train over the years.

Always modest, Barnes is quick to point out that the laboratory was the vision of his former supervisor, Dr. Wendell Horne, Appel said.

“But I’m not sure that even Wendell ever dreamed that it would become one of the biggest and busiest diagnostic labs in the country,” he said.

Story by Mike Jackson

Monday, September 1, 2008

Insecticide resistance threatens thrips pest management

Western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis) are difficult to control. Their secluded behavior protects them from many insecticides; eggs are inserted into plant tissue, the larvae feed in tight, protected areas, such as flower buds or growth terminals, the pupal stages occur in the soil-media, and the adults feed within protected areas. Thrips may eventually come into contact with insecticides when the right spray equipment and application interval are used. However, chemical control may not be effective when there is insecticide resistance in the population. In response to high levels of resistance recently found in vegetable fields in Florida, Dow AgroSciences has suspended the sale and use of products containing spinosad in Broward County and a portion of Palm Beach County, FL.

This drastic and unprecedented action taken by Dow AgroSciences in Florida is yet another ‘red flag’ indicating the importance and possible consequences of insecticide resistance. We should all view this as an opportunity to take a closer look at our pest control toolbox and make sure it includes sound insecticide resistance management practices, to avoid similar problems in Texas. The good new is that so far, most Texas growers have thrips populations that are still susceptible to spinosad (Conserve®). Earlier this year, I monitored western flower thrips for their tolerance to spinosad. Most of the greenhouse locations sampled did not have large thrips populations. Since these growers primarily use Conserve®, the low populations suggest good efficacy in most cases. However, I did detect very high tolerance levels (immunity) to Conserve at one Texas location. Since then this particular grower has agreed to completely stop using Conserve for at least 6 months.

The most important thing we can do to avoid pesticide resistance is to properly rotate pesticides based on their mode of action. Rotation is essential for all pesticides groups: herbicides, fungicides, bactericides and insecticides. The first evidence of resistance is usually reduced efficacy against the target pest even when the pesticide was properly applied at the recommended rate. If you suspect a pest population is developing tolerance to a particular chemical, continued use or increasing the rate of the product will only accelerate the rate of resistance selection, eventually leading to complete control failure.

To avoid resistance to spinosad, do not make more than two consecutive applications of Conserve®. If additional treatments are needed, rotate with products with different mode of action for at least two subsequent applications. There are a number of effective products available for thrips control. The list includes (but is not limited to) those products containing abamectin, Beauveria bassiana, chlorfenapyr, chlorpyrifos, dimethoate, fenoxycarb, methiocarb, novaluron, pyridalyl and tau-fluvalinate.

If you suspect insecticide resistance or need further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.