EPA gives okay for new sugarcane insecticide

4/26/2006 6:42:24 PM

Ag Center scientist plays key role

An LSU Agricultural Center scientist played a major role in helping bring to market a new environmentally friendly insecticide for sugarcane – so friendly that it won an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Called “Confirm,” the insecticide was issued a Section 3 label in November 1999, which means it complies with EPA regulations and is registered for permanent use in sugarcane.

“It interferes with the molting process of the insect,” said Gene Reagan, an entomologist who worked for more than three years trying to find a new insecticide to help control the sugarcane borer, the No. 1 insect threat to Louisiana sugarcane crops. “The sugarcane borer is by far the most destructive insect pest in sugarcane. It’s responsible for more than 90 percent of crop losses by insects,” Reagan said, adding that losses could be as much as 50 percent to 60 percent of yield with improper management.

Confirm accelerates molting in only a few groups of lepidopterous insects. This group includes moths, such as the sugarcane borer. The chemical causes the insect to die by interfering with the completion of the molting process, primarily in the larval (caterpillar) stage.

The EPA gave Confirm the Presidential Green Chemistry Award in 1998 for two reasons, Reagan said. Confirm works on such a narrow range of insects that it is compatible with preserving and protecting beneficial insects. Second, it is a minimumrisk pesticide, which means it is much less hazardous to the applicator and the environment.

Reagan started his search for a new sugarcane insecticide in 1991, when six of the 21 documented fish kills in South Louisiana were attributed to use of the insecticide Guthion in sugarcane.

“The fish kills brought negative attention to the sugarcane industry,” said Reagan, who then contacted chemical companies to help him identify more environmentally friendly chemistry that could be applied to control the sugarcane borer.

One of the companies, Rohm and Haas of Philadelphia, Penn., suggested two new chemicals, which at the time had no U.S. labels. One of these was Confirm.

“It did a good job in the first stage of our investigation,” Reagan said.

Working with Dale Pollet, an extension entomologist with the Ag Center, and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the EPA subsequently issued approval for a state emergency label (Section 18) on Confirm starting in 1997, and terminated the label for Guthion on sugarcane effective in August 1999.

As research continued, results proved Confirm effective and farmers readily adopted it.

Reagan explained that controlling harmful insects in production systems involves biological controls and cultural practices incorporated into a system of integrated pest management.

“There are three approaches to insect control in crops – insecticides, biological controls and host plant resistance,” Reagan said. “We have a long history in Louisiana of developing insect- and disease-resistant plant varieties.”

Reagan also gives credit for the sugarcane insect pest research to U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Bill White at the Agricultural Research Service in Houma, La.

(This article was published in the winter 2000 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
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