Related topics

Researchers Use Broomsticks and Sex in War Against Weevils

December 4, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Take one broomstick, one ordinary aluminum pan and a few drops of what Agriculture Department researchers call ″sex attractant.″

What have you got? Well, just add insecticide, a plastic cap and a lime- green coating and you come out with what researchers call a lethal new weapon in agriculture’s long-running war against the boll weevil.

It may not look like much, but developers say their new broomhandle bait stick will deliver a lopsided kill ratio in the fight against the hated arch- enemy of America’s cotton producers.

″It’s a simple concept, really, but represents putting together findings from 30 years of research on boll weevil behavior,″ says USDA research scientist Gerald H. McKibben.

In Mississippi fields where the device is being tested for the second year, scientists are finding 70 percent fewer weevils, he says.

And one of the glories being claimed is that the homely looking implement uses just one gram of insecticide an acre, 100 times less than usual. Backers say it could gain support from consumerists who wince at hosing down farm fields with chemicals in the fight against insects and other pests.

″It’s possible that the bait stick idea could be used for other insect pests on other crops in the future,″ McKibben says. ″But we have to test that further.″

McKibben developed the stick at the Agricultural Research Service Boll Weevil Laboratory in Starkville, Miss. Testing is also in progress in Texas.

McKibben says his agency has signed contracts with two private firms to improve the device for commercial use.

It is made by thrusting the broomstick through the center of a foil-like aluminum pie pan and driving one end of the stick into the ground. The pan, with its interior facing up, rides halfway up the stick.

The stick is topped with a lime-green plastic cap covered with insecticide, a feeding stimulant and a chemical called grandlure.

Scientists say grandlure is highly effective as a sex attractant for weevils. And for some reason lime green seems to be their favorite color. But when the critters pay a visit to the cap they get a nasty dose of insecticide and fall dead into the pan.

Since the insecticide is on the cap, it stays out of the soil and ground water.

A lime-green compound that kills weevils has also been painted on the side of the stick. A patent has been filed for both the coating and the cap.

Before he was through last year, McKibben was finding 200 to 300 dead weevils a day in his pans, agriculture officials say.


WASHINGTON (AP) - Agriculture Department forecasters say final figures will show strong vegetable production in 1990, exceeding the trend of the last decade and a half for the second straight year.

Processing tomato and fresh onion crops appear destined to set production records while the dry edible bean crop is likely to come in just short of a record, according to latest figures from USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Fall potato and sweet potato output also are on their way to posting increases, forecasters say. They say increases in these crops account for the bulk of the gain in overall vegetable production over last year’s level.

Farmers expanded acreage planted in potatoes this year and thus boosted the crop 6 percent over last year’s level of 370.4 million hundredweight.

Dry edible bean production should end the year at 32 million hundredweight, 33 percent above the 1990 level but 1 percent below 1981.

Vegetable growers were hammered by a hard freeze early in the 1990 season. It was especially tough on Florida’s tomato crop. Growers replanted, though, and by spring ideal conditions were hurrying an unusually abundant crop to market. That sent prices down, at times below the costs of picking and packing, and there were reports of tomatoes left in fields.

The outlook for next season is for stronger supplies and prices generally below a year earlier for the crops.


WASHINGTON (AP) - Supermarkets continue to have the largest share of the nation’s retail food sales, new Agriculture Department figures show.

Supermarkets constitute only about 10 percent of the stores selling food around the country but have 70 percent of the sales, said a report from USDA’s Economic Research Service.

The reason for the dominance of supermarkets is that they deal in high volume, the report says. It also says supermarkets are unlikely to remain unchanged as consumer trends already evident intensify.

Forecasters say the supermarket will become provide an increasing number of goods and services to meet consumer demand for speed and convenience and soon may be serving dinner right at the store.

Update hourly