“Even across the road is better” than directly adjacent fields, Alyokhin says.
Trap-cropping is another useful control strategy. Before planting the crop, plant a ring of sacrificial potatoes around the field to attract overwintering beetles when they emerge, Szendrei says.
“The beetles come out as soon as they smell the potatoes,” she says. “It’s hard to find anything more attractive [to them] than the potato.”
Tomato, eggplant and wild nightshade are the other primary hosts.
Spray the trap crop as soon as the pest concentrates there.
Strike early, save later
An early attack with high pest mortality means fewer sprays over the entire season, she says.
The practice has allowed Otto’s clients to drop one foliar insecticide application on their crop. With costs for each spray between $15 to $30 per acre, the effort is “worthwhile,” he says.
The beetle’s devastating impact on potatoes stems from its strong preference for the plant, its ability to reproduce on a large scale and its few natural enemies, Szendrei says.
Researchers are looking into mulches and pheromones as additional aids, while an MSU breeder is trying to develop new varieties that are less attractive to the pest.
“We can’t rely on some future silver [pesticide] bullet to replace what’s being used currently,” Alyokhin says. “We have the tools. We just have to use them judiciously.”
For an easy to use chart of crop protection materials and chemical classes, visit the National Potato Council.