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Coordinated monitoring of field crop pests in the Prairie Ecosystem

A vital insect management resource for the past 20 years, the Prairie Pest Monitoring Network is making plans for its new five-year funding period.

If you’ve ever read an insect forecast in a provincial agriculture publication or received an insect heads-up from a crop consultant, you’re likely familiar with the work of the Prairie Pest Monitoring Network (PPMN).

“The project has been going for over 20 years and we’ve had funding from a number of industry groups, as well as federal support, to run this coordinated monitoring project,” said Meghan Vankosky, Entomology Research Scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The Network acts as a central hub of data for incidents and severity of key insect pests in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Information is gathered by farmers, agronomists, industry, university scientists and federal and provincial entomologists.

In 2018, the Network secured five additional years of funding from the Integrated Crop Agronomy Cluster, of which APG is a funder. Vankosky and Jennifer Otani (Biologist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) will serve as project co-leads, with provincial roles led by Scott Meers of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, James Tansey of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and John Gavloski of Manitoba Agriculture.

Old foes and new challenges

Farmers won’t be surprised to hear that several insect pests have been on the most-wanted list continuously throughout the past 20 years.

“We have a lot of biological data on insects like grasshopper and wheat midge,” Vankosky said. “We put that information together into different scenarios to forecast where they might be found and what their potential impact might be going into the next growing season.”

Other insect pests, such as pea leaf weevil, were little-known when the Network first started but have become a significant concern on the Prairies in recent years.

“The pea leaf weevil is one of several pests we now monitor for every year,” Vankosky said. “Going forward, we’re hoping to include new emerging pests, including pulse pests like pea and soybean aphids.”

Just as pest populations have changed in 20 years, notions of environmental stewardship have come a long way. More producers are careful to manage the impact of insecticide applications on beneficial insects and pollinators, and the Network’s maps help shape growers’ choices.

“Our maps show pest densities or areas at risk of pest outbreaks,” Vankosky said. “Growers can use that information to decide to avoid using insecticides in order to promote natural enemy populations, or to perhaps scout more closely.”

The Network provides this time-sensitive information on the distribution and severity of insect pest challenges mainly through their weekly online PPMN blog They are also growing into social media.

Vankosky, or @Vanbugsky as she’s known on Twitter, believes technology will become more important in providing critical in-season information to growers on insect threats.

“The technology available to us has evolved a lot over 20 years,” Vankosky said. “We’ll be improving our online presence over the next five years based on what our subscribers want and how they want to get it.”