Creation of the Texas Plant Protection Association in 1989 coincided with what Jim Bone describes as a “wave of change, giving rise to challenge long-standing practices for insect control.”
Bone, who retired two years ago as Commercial Development Manager, U.S., for DuPont Crop Protection, credits pioneers “like Dr. Charles Lincoln, University of Arkansas; Dr. Dan Clower, Louisiana State University; and Dr. Perry Adkinson, Texas A&M University,” as early catalysts for a different approach to insect pest management. He said these men believed in a better way “but had lacked the tools to fully implement” those changes.
He says the impact of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s ground-breaking book on pesticide use, “whether fact or fiction had created a new awareness and influenced the creation and growth of regulation (including) EPA. Growers, long schooled in the philosophy of ‘“the only good bug was a dead bug’ had concerns about how an insect not falling immediately from the treated plant was no longer a problem.”
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They were beginning to change their thinking.
“In terms of insecticide discovery, 25 years is a relatively short period,” Bone says. He notes that light stable synthetic pyrethroid development began in the mid 1940s with first real success in mid 1970s.
“Dr. Michael Elliott, NRDC, UK, began his search for a replacement for naturally occurring pyrethrum in the mid 1940s as a reaction to concern that supply from Africa would be lost due to war. Once the door opened, renewed industrial interest in insecticide discovery followed, led by FMC, ICI and Shell. While these three companies no longer have a direct presence in today’s U.S. base, their efforts live on through merger and acquisition.
“While other companies were engaged in discovery, light stable synthetic pyrethroid insecticides proved the profitability of change through a chemical supplier.”
Bone cites other factors that influenced insecticide development over the period:
- Development was slowed by customer receptivity; many were graduates of the school of ‘“saturation bombing;’ get all the insects you can every time you spray even if you need a wash day schedule. I want to see dead bugs in the middles.”
- Progress also was slowed by support service revenues largely influenced by trips across the field applying products. “Aerial application was critical to covering acres and we often assumed that if farmers found insects in one field, he had insects in all fields!”
- Change was enhanced by increased regulation dealing with impact on the environment and non-target species.
- Positive impacts included broader training of field operatives in IMP –Intelligent, or if you like, Integrated Pest Management. The process included scouting and then spraying.
- Scouting for insects was a growing need, giving rise to increased opportunity for private business.
- Targeted research to address specific pest problems.
- Bio-technology created opportunities that allowed greater understanding of how to employee conventional technology for maximum crop benefit.
- Increasing demands for precision application have led to even more change: electrostatic sprayers, high speed, high clearance ground sprayers and chemigation, each with its own special insecticide formulation needs.
Insecticide development also produced changes in pest management. Examples include light stable pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, and Bt gene placement.
“Advances have created and continue to create areas of need,” Bone says. “In cotton we stopped the boll weevil with an integrated program, gained mastery of worms initially with light stable pyrethroids only to have true bugs, aphids and spider mites come forward as increasing problems.”
More change is coming, he says. “Where do we go from here? Food safety will be of greater concern as poorly informed consumers rely on emotion versus science. Escalating concerns over non-target interactions will be an issue. Government involvement in development and use of insecticides will not lessen.”
The industry will continue to respond, he says. “Bio-technology will be a focus. Industry chemical discovery will continue with ‘profit pressure’ strongly influencing targets. Variations in farm gate revenue will continue as a significant factor in grower decisions on control practices.”
Farmers will have to learn how to use existing products more effectively, Bone says. “The likelihood of finding silver bullets for major problems is remote in the short to medium term.”
Who will direct these efforts? “Who will be our technology leaders in the laboratory and the field—not in companies or agencies, but the people who will replace an aging knowledge base and workforce?”
It’s a hard question, he says.
The 25th annual TPPA Conference will be held Dec. 10 and 11 at the Brazos Center in Bryan. For more information, check http://tppa.tamu.edu.