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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Researching Minor Crop Pest Control Options

LAS CRUCES - New Mexico's chile, onion and pecan growers might not agree, but their crops are considered minor because the acreage is small compared with the nation's "big four" crops - corn, wheat, soybeans and cotton.

Agricultural chemical companies are reluctant to invest millions to register their products for minor crops, leaving growers with fewer options for controlling pests.

To help provide solutions, New Mexico State University's Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center is serving as a field research center for Interregional Research Project No. 4. IR 4, established in 1963, is the only publicly funded program to conduct research and submit information to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for pesticide and biopesticide registrations for minor crops.

"Minor crops are a major component in New Mexico agriculture," said Richard Lee, weed scientist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "More than 30 food crops and a variety of nursery and landscape crops are grown in the state."

Minor crops have a major impact on U.S. agriculture. Grown in every state, they are worth $40 billion, accounting for 40 percent of the total value of the nation's crops, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

The need for minor crop pesticide testing increased dramatically in 1996 when the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) set new standards for pesticide residues in food to protect infants and children. Under the new standards, use of some pesticides previously approved for use in fruits, vegetables and other minor crops was curtailed.

"Millions of dollars must be invested in order to generate a registration package," Lee said. "When a new pesticide is discovered and doesn't have the potential to be registered for a major crop, the chances of it making it to an official registered pesticide are quite slim. That's where IR-4 comes in."

The IR-4 program's goal is to make alternative pest control products available. Researchers test pesticides and biopesticides to find products to replace those lost under the FQPA, working in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the land-grant university system.

Field research centers for IR-4 conduct field trials and pesticide residue analyses to develop food safety data for minor crops.

"There are stringent quality assurance guidelines in place," said Phil Banks, NMSU's IR-4 program field research director. "We are responsible for applying pesticides to the crops, gathering the crops, then sending them to IR-4 laboratories where the commodity is evaluated for pesticide residues."

This year, NMSU's scientists will test nine pest control products in 11 IR-4 field projects involving chile, broccoli, onions, lettuce, cantaloupe and tomato. Projects assigned for field testing coordinate with crops grown in the EPA residue region where the center is located. NMSU's IR-4 research center, just south of Las Cruces, is in EPA residue region 10, which also encompasses southern Arizona and most of California.

IR-4 field research centers and laboratories are located in 26 states. A three-year funding commitment for NMSU's center is in place from the IR-4 program, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, and NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service and Agricultural Experiment Station.