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Iowa State University researchers help combat pests and disease

To aid conventional farmers in their fight against pests and disease, Iowa State University researchers are experimenting with new methods that could give organic growers new options.

The researchers received a $2 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to test two promising organic methods to help cucurbits, a group of plants that includes melons, squash and cucumbers, fight insects that carry bacterial diseases. The researchers will team with scientists at Cornell University and the University of Kentucky to examine physical barriers that protect plants from unwanted insects and biocontrol measures.

“Organic growers run into a lot of pests and diseases that are difficult to manage with organic tools,” said Mark Gleason, an ISU professor of plant pathology and microbiology and member of the research team. “Our goal is to identify some innovative ways of addressing these problems that also improve sustainability.”

Testing new tunnel strategy
Gleason and his research team will study the effectiveness of mesotunnels, or physical barriers composed of nylon mesh fabric that is suspended on hoops placed about 42 inches over the ground, to prevent harmful insects from attacking the crops. Each mesotunnel will cover three rows, and each row in the experiments will extend for 200 feet.

The mesotunnels are similar to a management tool known as low tunnels, which are physical barriers set up about 18 inches above the crops. Low tunnels, however, don’t allow helpful insects to pollinate the plants, a necessary step in crop production, so the screens must be removed when the plants start to flower in order to allow for pollination.

According to, the researchers also will test several weed-control strategies in conjunction with the mesotunnels. Those methods include laying down crop debris and seeding “living mulch,” or plant species such as clover and rye.

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