SPOKANE – WSU researchers, along with colleagues within the Western States Cereal Leaf Beetle Team, are being honored with the Deputy Administrator’s Safeguarding Award for 2009. 

Using biological controls, the team was able to minimize negative impacts from the cereal leaf beetle, an insect often found in cereal crops that has the potential to decrease yields in Washington by 25 percent.

The accolade was presented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture first found cereal leaf beetles in Spokane County in 1999, and subsequently, started releasing biological control species – natural enemies of the pest – in 2000. Since 2003, the Western Cereal Leaf Beetle Team, led by WSU Extension educator Diana Roberts, has expanded the biological control program.

“The team comprised scientists from state and federal agencies and universities in seven U.S. states and three Canadian provinces,” said Roberts. “The teamwork and collaboration was excellent – they have been a great group to work with.”

Rather than using pesticides to ward off the cereal leaf beetles, which eventually may become costly for farmers to repeatedly apply, another insect combats the beetle. The primary biological control species being used is a wasp that is both tiny and harmless to people, pets, livestock, plants and insects other than the cereal leaf beetle. The biological controls used are referred to as “parasitoids” because ultimately they kill their host, whereas “parasites” do not necessarily cause host death.

Because of the work done by the Western Cereal Leaf Beetle Team, farmers in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain region have been able to minimize negative impacts resulting from the beetle, as well as reduce insecticide application. The use of the biological control potentially saves Washington growers $6.75 million annually.

The Deputy Administrator’s Safeguarding Award is given in recognition of both initiatives and innovations that make significant contributions to furthering the overall goal of safeguarding American agriculture and plant resources.

“For APHIS to recognize the value of the team’s approach is in itself unusual, and it says a lot about how special the efforts are and continue to be,” said Mitchell Nelson, plant health director for APHIS in Oregon. “Biological control work has very seldom been set apart for special recognition within APHIS, which makes this award doubly valued in my mind.”