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New model scores a hat-trick for farmers – helping them manage aphids, save money, and improve environmental performance

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Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has developed a model that will help grain farmers protect their crops against aphids – an insect that can reduce yield by up to 30%.

The model developed by Dr. Tyler Wist, field crop entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and his team predicts aphid population growth. This new tool will help farmers decide when to step in and take control of pests and when to let Mother Nature do her thing.

Farmers have a keen eye, especially when it comes to spotting insects and diseases threatening their crops. Spotting the helpful insects that work in their favour by naturally controlling crop pests can sometimes be more challenging.

Researchers have learned that these beneficial insects play a significant role in controlling the bad bugs that growers love to hate. So much so, that they now factor them into pest population prediction models. For example, aphids are small, soft-bodied, pear-shaped insects that suck the sap out of plants. They can spread plant diseases in the process and are a headache for many wheat, oat, and barley farmers in the West by causing significant crop damage and losses. In fact, wheat yield can be reduced by 20-30% during an aphid outbreak.

While farmers may not be aphid fans, lady beetles, damsel bugs, green lacewing larvae, and some other insects love them as tasty dinner treats. By tracking the population of these aphid-eaters, their feeding rates, and some other biological factors, researchers can accurately predict how many aphids farmers will have to deal with. In particular, they can better predict if the aphid-eaters will be able to keep the aphid population under control or if farmers will need to step in and protect the crop to prevent too much damage and economic losses.

A similar model was produced for soybean aphids in 2009 and the resulting mobile app, released in 2011 by the University of Guelph, saved growers $20-30 per acre in insecticide costs while also reducing pesticide impacts on the environment. A similar model was recently developed for prairie grain aphids through funding by the Pest Management Centre.

"We recognized that prairie grain farmers in the west would also benefit from a pest management tool like what was produced for soybeans. Our studies show that like soybeans farmers, using this model will potentially save grain farmers the cost of an insecticide treatment and also reduce the impact of their farming operations on the environment."

- Dr. Wist

Dr. Wist’s colleagues at AAFC, Erl Svendsen, Elham Karimi, and Kirby Frackleton have teamed up to incorporate this new aphid model into a mobile app called Cereal Aphid Manager.

Farmers now have another powerful tool to help them make informed decisions, save money, and reduce environmental impacts from pesticide use.

Photo gallery

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Dr. Tyler Wist, field crop entomologist with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada
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Green lacewing larva eating an aphid.

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