James Villegas: Battling bugs on crops

James Villegas will be the first to admit that his research plots are some of the worst-looking crop fields to be found.

And that’s just the way he wants it.

“We want (the crops) to be munched on by different insects,” said Villegas, an LSU AgCenter entomologist. “We do a lot of trial and error here in the field, and it is great that we can do that in the research station where we can afford to actually make mistakes in order for us to make sure that mistake won’t be translated in the real-field scenario outside of the research arena.”

Villegas began his role as the field crops entomologist at the AgCenter Dean Lee Research and Extension Center near Alexandria a few months ago. He works to identify and share strategies to manage insects both effectively and economically.

Talking with farmers, consultants and others in the agriculture industry is one of Villegas’ favorite aspects of his job. They often provide inspiration for his research program.

“They tell you what they observe in the field, and from there, you are able to generate several ideas that you could do in the field and build some experiments,” he said.

Though he grew up around rice and sugarcane farms in the Philippines, Villegas never expected to work in agriculture or to be an entomologist. But as an undergraduate student at Ateneo de Manila University, he learned about viruses vectored by insects and became fascinated with them.

“This is pretty cool,” he recalled thinking at the time. “There’s a world out there studying this kind of stuff.”

And so he went on to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in entomology at LSU. Before accepting his current position at Dean Lee, Villegas was a research associate specialist in the AgCenter Department of Entomology.

Villegas enjoys using his knowledge to help others.

“There is no greater joy than when you make some recommendations and get a call back and they say, ‘That works really well,’” he said. “That’s actually quite a great feeling.”

James Villegas with a sweep net in a field.

LSU AgCenter entomologist James Villegas works in one of his research plots. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

10/7/2022 3:57:42 PM
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