In 1996, the USDA began an ambitious program to replace a generation of highly toxic pesticides with less environmentally harsh alternatives. Terminating the use of potent broad-spectrum pesticides would be safer for people but tough for business. Developing, manufacturing, and registering pesticides targeted to a specific crop is expensive work required by U.S. law. Therefore, companies often choose to focus on major crops. But in the language of industry, all but a handful of Oregon’s 220 commercially grown crops are considered minor. Few pesticides are developed specifically for, say, turnips. So when turnip growers need a safe and effective product to control aphids, they turn to North Willamette researchers.
Joe DeFrancesco is director of the IR-4 Field Research Center at NWREC, which is Oregon’s part of the Interregional Project No. 4, a federal program to help producers find pest management tools for minor crops. From pumpkins to hops, these minor crops are major contributors to Oregon’s economy. DeFrancesco provides the research required by the Environmental Protection Agency to label pesticides for crops that are generally too limited in scale to be profitable for pesticide manufacturers to research on their own.
The goal of the program is to provide growers with alternatives. IR-4 helped register many of the Bt products organic growers rely on. “Pest management should be thoughtful and integrated, using cultural and biological methods, in addition to the judicious use of chemicals,” DeFrancesco said. “The work we do helps ensure safe, high-quality produce for consumers.”