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$1.2 million grant to support Clemson precision agriculture cotton research

BLACKVILLE, S.C. Clemson University will lead a groundbreaking multistate, multidisciplinary study of key precision agriculture technology after receiving a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Results of the far-reaching project likely will have lasting environmental benefits while saving farmers thousands of dollars a year in reduced pesticide costs.

The project will develop and test technologies for site-specific detection and control of plant-parasitic nematodes either to lower the use of high-risk pesticides, such as carbamates and soil fumigants, or to optimize nematicide utilization in cotton production in the southern United States.

Clemson University will lead the study, which will involve faculty and staff from the departments of biosystems engineering, entomology and soils and plant sciences; the Edisto Research and Education Center; and the Cooperative Extension Service.

Clemson researchers will work in conjunction with partners at the University of Arkansas and Louisiana State University and cotton growers throughout the three states.

Cotton is one of the most important crops in the southern United States with production worth an estimated $6 billion a year. It is grown on about 14 million acres from California to the Carolinas. More than 440,000 U.S. jobs are directly associated with the cotton industry, which generates annual revenues of more than $120 billion.

Every year, about 10 percent of U.S. cotton production is lost to nematodes. Yield losses in individual fields may reach 50 percent.

Nematodes are the most numerous multicellular animals on Earth. A handful of soil will contain thousands of the microscopic worms, some of them parasites of insects, plants or animals. Plant-parasitic nematodes cause more than $300 million in yield losses annually to the U.S. cotton industry.

Precision agriculture is the practice of using remote-sensing, soil-sampling and information-management tools to optimize agricultural production.

One goal of precision agriculture is to improve the accuracy of production inputs, such as the application of water or chemicals to fields. Management using precision agriculture concepts is in contrast to whole-field or whole-farm management, where decisions are made based on general information and inputs are uniformly applied across the entire field or farm.

Ahmad Khalilian, a biosystems engineering professor at the Edisto Research and Education Center who will lead the research team, said that when a nematode problem is suspected, farmers usually apply a uniform rate of nematicides pesticides across the entire field, or in some cases across the entire farm.

However, nematodes are not uniformly distributed in fields, and there may be substantial acreage in most fields where nematodes are not present or are present at levels that would not economically justify the application of a nematicide. Applying a nematicide over an entire field can be costly and environmentally questionable.

"By providing growers a realistic means of focusing nematicide applications only where nematode control is needed within individual fields, farmers stand to significantly grow their profits and reap environmental benefits," Khalilian said.

The study aims to enhance crop yield while reducing nematicide usage by more than 75 percent compared to uniform-rate applications, Khalilian said.

Other key Clemson personnel who will work on the study include:

  • John Mueller, professor of nematology and plant pathology and director of the Edisto research center, who will be responsible for coordinating all nematode-related work.
  • Young Han, professor in the biosystems engineering department, who will assist in adaptation, modification and development of equipment and software.
  • Will Henderson, statewide Extension precision agriculture specialist at the Edisto research center, who will lead training programs for county agents, consultants, technology providers and dealers.
  • Richard Hallman, biosystems engineering research technician at the Edisto research center, who will be involved in all aspects of this project.

Three nematode species the reniform, southern root-knot and Columbia lance represent the single most costly threat to cotton production in the mid-South and southeastern United States.

The reniform nematode, in particular, has increased dramatically throughout the South in the last 20 years, Khalilian said. Historically, it was confined to the extreme southern coastal plain.

"The rather rapid spread of this nematode pest through southern states has prompted considerable concern among cotton producers," he said.


Contact: Ahmad Khalilian
Clemson University

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