Learning for Life: Studying pests in Alaska

Here in Alaska we have relatively few pests on our farms and ranches. When I think about the weeds, diseases, and insects I had to manage as a research agronomist in Washington, Idaho, and New Zealand and compare that to our pest problems in Alaska, I know how lucky we are. However, every year about two new weeds are identified and there is always a new disease or insect pest reported. The questions are, how do we keep these new pests from establishing and how do we manage the ones we have?

The UAF Cooperative Extension Service recently received a very useful grant to address this issue. The grant is coming from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in their Crop Protection and Pest Management program. We will need input from all those who grow food, be it plant or animal, for us to accomplish the goals and objectives of the grant.

The grant will fund four part-time​ people in Kenai, Palmer, Fairbanks, and Delta Junction, who will be tasked with the goal of visiting every farm and ranch in Alaska over the next three summers. During these visits they will scout the fields, pastures and animals for pests, they will teach the owners how they do this, and they will provide information on how to report anything new that the owner may find at some future date.

In addition, the grant funds two part-time people to develop some training videos for managing our most important weeds, diseases and insects with integrated pest management strategies. And herein lies our problem: What are the most important weeds, diseases and insects? I have an opinion, as do many others and, no surprise, our opinions are different. We all understand that the worst pest in Fairbanks may not exist in Skagway or Bethel.

To try to resolve this conundrum, we would like anyone who grows crops or raises animals for food, or anyone who is in an agency that works with farmers and ranchers, to participate in a survey. This survey will let us know your main pest concerns and help us tailor our first year of outreach. The survey is straightforward, it does not take much time to fill out, and it will provide information we need to prioritize our pest management efforts. The survey can be accessed at http://bit.ly/akfarmpests.

We will be advertising this survey as best we can throughout Alaska. Do you know someone who produces food who does not have Internet access or get a newspaper? Let them know what the Cooperative Extension Service is trying to learn. Let them know there are computers that have Internet connections that can be used at their local library. This survey is a fundamental part of improving Alaska’s pest response and management.

As part of this project, we will be working with our new Extension veterinarian, Dr. Lisa Lunn, specifically for detecting external and internal pests of livestock. Students enrolled in the new UAF veterinarian program will be using our collections to practice identifying internal parasites. All the pest information will go into a large database that other organizations and agencies will contribute to as well. The database will be used to track trends, help prioritize which pests to focus on and assess the success of management programs. Not only will we learn where the pests are, but also where the pests are not.

Steven Seefeldt is the Tanana District agriculture and horticulture agent for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He can be reached at 907-474-2423 or ssseefeldt@alaska.edu. Visit the local extension office online at http://www.uaf.edu/ces/districts/kenai/ or stop by the Doors and Windows Building on K-Beach Road between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. We are “Learning for Life.”

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