02 January 2017

#Farming #ThreatWatch: Black-Eyed #Peas vs Cowpea Curculio #AgTech #Entomology

While browsing yesterday's AJC, I came across a "Sunday Conversation" feature with an UGA entomologist, Dr. Stormy Sparks (which is quite a moniker, but he should have perhaps been a meteorologist) discussing a pest which threatens black-eyed peas, a weevil called the cowpea curculio. No doubt the article was included partly as a human interest story, because many folks, particularly Southerners, believe eating black-eyed peas --- my favorite recipe is (a vegetarian) Hoppin' John --- on New Year's Day will bring good luck, a tradition with its roots in the time of slavery (that peculiar institution). I love peas generally, but personally I'd have to say that the black-eyed pea is at the bottom of the list --- although I appreciate them more now than as I child. Regardless, of my personal distaste for black-eyed peas, I have no desire to see a virulent pest threaten the plants' vitality.

South Georgia used to be a big producer of black-eyed peas (circa 1950s) but in recent decades production has decreased due to a combination of factors, which include a pest that has developed resistance to various pesticides. Entomologists are working to understand the weevil's odd effects on the black-eyed pea plants' ecosystem, in hopes of finding other ways to counteract it. This might take the form of a better (man-made) chemical pesticide or an organic agent.

I am greatly interested in entomology for three main reasons: 1) bugs often look cool (this is my childhood fascination), 2) insect borne disease transmission is an ever growing threat to human (and domesticated animal) survival, and 3) insect crop devastation is another major threat to human survival. I hope to use my fascination with bugs (1) to discover methods to help combat 2 and 3. This is the main reason why I have tried to absorb everything I could with regard to entomology. When one intends to live off the land (farming, hunting, fishing, etc.) and one lives far from the madding crowd (acreage in or near wilderness) the likelihood of detrimental pest encounters goes up exponentially. One must be prepared.

Being an amateur ecologist as well, I understand that chemical pesticides can bring their own harmful side effects, and so it's my hope to discover and/or develop natural, organic methods to counteract bug issues. (For instance, I have recently been experimenting with food grade diatomaceous earth.) In the history of agriculture, our reliance on chemical pesticides is a modern contrivance. I hope to employ "ancient" methods augmented with modern science and technology plus a bit of ingenuity to defeat any encroaching pests, be they ticks, weevils or what have you. I will look to farming cultures of old and update and adjust.

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