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Brian Nault

Go-to Guy for Vegetables in Trouble Earns Excellence in IPM Award

by Mary Woodsen

brian nault
photo by Janice Colon

When a virus epidemic hit New York's 30,000 acres of snap beans, entomologist Brian Nault shifted into high gear. The virus wasn't new, but an aphid that transmits it was. That aphid spells major trouble for the snap bean industry throughout New York and the Great Lakes region, not just for growers but for food processors and ultimately consumers as well.

As a go-to guy for nearly any vegetable with insect trouble, Nault, a professor at Cornell University, began looking at the aphid's ecology. He examined how it dispersed and overwintered—not only among snap beans but in hedgerows or neighboring fields. This called for traditional fieldwork, complemented by new molecular techniques, and opened a window into the aphids' population dynamics.

Nault's goal—to find the least toxic, most effective means of taming this dread disease. Sometimes the results are surprising: as is the case with many viruses, spraying for aphids provides no benefit at all.

For this and a range of similar projects, Nault is receiving an Excellence in IPM award. IPM, or integrated pest management, fosters environmentally and economically sound practices to help cope with pests.

Farmers like onion grower Matt Mortellaro have benefitted not only from Nault's expertise but from how accessible he is. "He's always responsive to grower input," says Mortellaro, who participated in research to find solutions to thrips. These tiny insects are the most destructive pest of onions, and now they're helping spread a new invasive virus. Growers using carefully targeted sprays on research plots cut applications by up to 50 percent.

"I've changed my practices because of Brian's work," says Mortellaro. "His work in thrips management is particularly worthy of recognition."

Jeff Johnson at Seneca Foods Corporation says Nault's research isn't just about farmers. Saving on pesticide use climbs the economic food chain too. "Brian's research has a major impact on the cost of controlling pests," Johnson says. "His work to help our industry stay competitive is an asset to us all."

Nault received his award on January 22 at the Empire State Fruit and Vegetable Expo in Syracuse, NY.