For its leadership role in making pest control more ecologically friendly and less dangerous to human health, the Arizona Pest Management Center at the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has been awarded the Gold Tier Shining Star Award by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Southwestern Arizona, summer of 1992: A diffuse, white cloud hovers above the vegetable fields stretching across the valley, engulfing the traffic that is moving along the freeway. Cars and trucks emerge on the other side, windshield wipers flapping frantically. At the same time in downtown Phoenix, a woman steps outside onto the campus of South Mountain Community College, into what looks like a blizzard of swirling snow.
"Those white clouds are whiteflies, billions and billions of them," says Peter Ellsworth, pointing at the images on his laptop screen. "They would gum up your windshield, and people had to wear masks to be able to breathe."
When Ellsworth, now director of the University of Arizona's Arizona Pest Management Center, started as an entomologist at the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, just a year before what he calls a plague of biblical proportion, he and his team were facing "a nearly impossible pest management situation," as he describes it.
Whiteflies (Bemisia tabaci), which actually are relatives of aphids, not flies, come in different strains called biotypes and are feared as agricultural pests across the world.
The B-biotype was introduced into the U.S. in the late 1980s and invaded Arizona in the early 1990s, displacing the native A-biotype in a matter of a few years, ravaging vegetable and cotton fields.
The whiteflies secrete honeydew, a sticky substance that gums up the cotton fibers and provides a breeding ground for mold. "It pushed buyers away from even considering Arizona-grown cotton," Ellsworth says, and put the entire industry at risk.
Read the rest of this April 17 UANews article at http://uanews.org/node/46396
Western Farm Press also featured this story on April 27: http://westernfarmpress.com/cotton/arizona-pest-management-center-earns-epa-award