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Issue No. 4, Article 3/April 27, 2012

World's Worst Agricultural Pests? Some Familiar, Others Not, to Midwest Producers

Last fall I came across an interesting article on the BBC News Science and Environment website: "Plant Pests: The Biggest Threats to Food Security?" (www.bbc.co.uk./news/science-environment-15623490). The article leads with these declarations: "The threat posed to crop production by plant pests and diseases is one of the key factors that could lead to a 'perfect storm' that threatens to destabilise global food security. Already, the biological threat accounts for about a 40% loss in global production and the problem is forecast to get worse, scientists warn."

BBC News asked Dr. Matthew Cock, chief scientist for the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International (www.cabi.org), to list the most globally significant agricultural pests. (I define a pest in this context as an organism that competes with humans for food and fiber, which would include many species of plant diseases, insects, and weeds.)

Dr. Cock's list follows. For more details, I urge you to read this informative BBC article.

  • Worst historical pest--the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria)
  • Hardest pest to control--South American rubber blight (caused by the fungus Microcyclus ulei)
  • Most expensive pest to control--western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera)
  • Pest of greatest human impact--potato blight (caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans)
  • Worst stored product pest--Khapra beetle (Trogoderma granarium)
  • Worst climate change threat--mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae)
  • Most imminent threat--wheat stem rust strain Ug99 (Puccinia graminis tritici)
  • Most resilient pest--Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata)

Although this list of pests focused on insects and diseases, it is clear that weeds are an exceedingly important category of pests and increasingly more expensive and difficult to control due to herbicide resistance. The implementation of sound IPM approaches around the globe is critical to sustain food production, decrease hunger and starvation, and prolong the effectiveness of pesticides and resistant crop varieties (including those that are transgenic).--Mike Gray

Mike Gray

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