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Mike Gray Begins New Appointment as Assistant Dean for University of Illinois Extension Program Coordination

July 31, 2003

On August 1, 2003, I will begin a new appointment as assistant dean for University of Illinois Extension program coordination. For 16 summers, it has been my pleasure to write weekly articles for the readers of the Pest Management and Crop Development Bulletin along with my good friend, mentor, and colleague Kevin Steffey. My first summer was in 1988, and I'll never forget that hot, dry summer and the widespread infestation of two-spotted spider mites in soybean fields across the state. I recall our taking nonstop phone calls for weeks through this devastating outbreak of mites. As early August 1988 approached, more than 50% (6 million acres) of the soybean acres in Illinois had been treated with an insecticide, and many acres were treated twice.

Through the years, we've experienced the evolution of a new variant western corn rootworm that now lays eggs in soybeans and renders crop rotation ineffective as a pest management tactic throughout east-central and northeastern Illinois counties. Pete Petty, the first Extension entomologist at the University of Illinois, recommended crop rotation as the best approach to manage western corn rootworms after they invaded Illinois (Rock Island County) in 1964. However, he predicted that western corn rootworms would adapt to this cultural tactic. He was correct! In 1995 (31 years later), I observed severe western corn rootworm larval injury in rotated corn across several counties in east-central Illinois. Producers who had rotated corn and soybeans for decades saw their yields plummet from corn rootworm larval feeding during that very hot summer.

In recent years, we've witnessed the reemergence of some old insect pests such as the southern corn leaf beetle. The southern corn leaf beetle caused corn producers in the early 1900s some headaches. Then these insects seemed to virtually disappear. For some unknown reason in the mid-1990s, they once again began to inflict some losses in Illinois cornfields. Producers had many questions; Kevin and I had few answers. So we turned to the literature and discovered that no scientific articles had been published for about 80 years concerning this insect.

Without warning, new pests can invade our corn and soybean production system. In 2000, soybean aphids were detected for the first time in many soybean fields across a good share of the north-central region of the United States. Entomologists and plant breeders continue to work on biological control and host-plant resistance strategies to manage this new insect pest.

It continues to amaze me how rapidly new insect problems emerge and how resilient some of the old insect "foes" are. There will continue to be new challenges in the applied entomology arena. Although we have new and exciting transgenic tools to manage some insect pests, such as the European corn borer, we should not mistakenly assume that this technology will be the salvation to all our future pest management challenges. As we should have learned, an overreliance on any single pest management tactic will ultimately result in pests "squeezing through our grip."

Again, it has been an honor to share my thoughts, observations, and recommendations through the years. I hope that you will continue to share your perspectives with me on Illinois agriculture and crop production and protection issues. My new address is University of Illinois, College of ACES, 214 Mumford Hall, 1301 West Gregory Drive, Urbana, Illinois 61801. My phone number is (217)333-9025. My e-mail address will remain the same: Take care.--Mike Gray

Author: Mike Gray

The Pest Management and Crop Development Bulletin
Executive Editor: Kevin Steffey, Extension Entomologist

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