The University of Georgia’s newest entomologist is eyeing a different approach to studying insects in multiple agricultural crops.
Instead of focusing on how to eliminate pests that reduce yield and negatively impact profits, UGA entomologist Jason Schmidt is looking to improve agricultural management systems to preserve helpful insects.
“I want to tell the story about how our current pest management systems are contributing to biological control in the South, and how we can build up systems that improve natural controls of pests,” said Schmidt, who joined the faculty of UGA’s Tifton Campus this spring. “I want to balance pest management with the approach of: don’t kill off all of our natural predators and parasitoids. I’m working towards a balance of sustainable solutions to pest management that are feasible and reduce risks to natural enemies.”
Schmidt is currently working with fellow UGA entomologist Michael Toews to study cover cropping’s effects on pest management in cotton. Schmidt is also examining the impact that cover cropping has on natural predators commonly found in cotton fields.
“Down the road, I think the precision-based approach to pest management and farmscaping are two areas I’m interested in. What happens when we’re doing our scouting and we see a pest in the field? Are there natural enemies too? What factors are influencing the spatial associations of the pest-predator interaction? Is the pest localized to one area? Should we just treat that area instead of treating the whole field?” Schmidt said.
“Farmscaping is of interest to researchers like me because, if you mix different crops — either through rotational systems or diversifying the type of production commodities that you have — you are changing the system, the agroecosystem. This change can have broad, potentially positive effects on the structure of food webs and, importantly, boost biological control services,” he said.
Schmidt received his doctoral degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His research there focused on predators in soybean and corn systems.
He also worked in winter wheat, organic squash, asparagus and organic apple production. His background in multiple systems, attracted Schmidt to the position that UGA which provides the flexibility to work across many commodities and collaborate with scientists who specialize in peanuts, cotton and vegetables.
“Being able to work within different commodities, forming a program that provides new understanding on biological control as well as influences of new management tactics on beneficial organisms, is what inspired me to apply to UGA,” Schmidt said.
To learn more about Schmidt’s work at UGA or to contact him at the Tifton Campus, see ent.uga.edu.
(Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)