David Crowder

Washington State University entomology professor David Crowder.

A free cutting-edge system from Washington State University gives Northwest potato growers site-specific information about insect activity in their fields.

The new potato decision aid system parallels WSU’s existing system for tree fruit, said David Crowder, associate professor of entomology and interim director of WSU’s Decision Aid System program.

“Think about the kind of data you can get on your phone, only way more powerful than that,” Crowder said. “You can go out in your backyard and get your temperature; we have the professional version of that, that’s been tested and checked by lots of meteorologists.”

Farmers must register to use the free site.

Agriculture is weather-dependent, including crop growth and the development of insect populations and diseases.

Those risks “change quite rapidly,” Crowder said. “You could be facing risk from a disease today but not two days from now.”

The system takes weather data and forecasts what will happen on the farm.

The potato system is operating for the first time this year in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

It includes risk assessments of major insect pest outbreaks, using WSU Extension vegetable crops specialist Carrie Wohleb’s weekly pest alerts. She collects data on about 10 different insect species on 40 to 60 farms.

“If you’re a grower and you come into our site, you can actually zoom down to the level of your individual field and see our prediction of what the insects are doing at that scale,” Crowder said.

It won’t necessarily give growers an exact number of aphids, Crowder said, but it will tell them how populations are developing in the region. They can plan their insecticide program accordingly.

“Just like people in the weather industry are forecasting what the next week is going to look like temperature-wise, we’re forecasting what the next week is going to look like in terms of Colorado potato beetle (or) potato psyllid.”

Insect abundance models the university uses capture about 50-80% of the variability in the insect populations in the Columbia Basin, Crowder said.

“This is actually quite high because there are a lot of other factors that affect insects — insecticides, management, et cetera,” he said.

Models that capture the timing of life stages are able to predict what will occur with over 90% accuracy, he said.

Growers say the system has allowed them to save an average of $62 per acre through improved pesticide application timing and increased crop yields, Crowder said.

“All hubris aside, WSU has the best system in the entire world,” he said. “There are very few institutions that have systems like this in the United States. They’re not as advanced as ours. Not only is this new for potatoes, this is really innovative in the world of pest management in general.”

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