YUMA -- Through the donations of nearly two dozen Southwestern growers and industry leaders, the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has received commitments totaling more than $1 million to establish an endowed chair in integrated pest management.
A multifaceted and environmentally sensitive approach to managing everything from insects and weeds to animal and human diseases, integrated pest management strives to support growers and increase farm profitability, while reducing human health risks and protecting natural resources.
The endowed chair will honor John Palumbo, a cooperative extension specialist at the Yuma Agricultural Center, and his contributions to the Yuma community.
"John directs a well-integrated research and extension education program as part of the Extension Vegetable Integrated Pest Management Team. He provides an exemplary role as an excellent extension specialist working to accomplish the mission of the Arizona Cooperative Extension System, which is to bring the university to the people and bring science to bear on practical issues," said Jeff Silvertooth, director of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.
"People like John bring the real value of the university to the people in the state and he does it better than anyone."
'When in doubt, scout.'
It is an old saying in Yuma – a simple reminder that there is no substitute for walking the fields. It is a saying that guides Palumbo.
"Scouting is about making informed IPM decisions. Effective and economic insect control is dependent on understanding pest activity occurring in the field," Palumbo said. "The only way to do that is by scouting fields and sampling plants to determine the level of insect infestation and whether you need to apply controls to prevent economic losses. For the high-quality vegetable crops that we grow in Arizona, scouting has to be thorough and accurate."
Palumbo has had boots on the ground, walking alongside growers and pest control advisers in Arizona fields for most of his nearly 30-year career. From the destructive whitefly swarms of the early 1990s to the invasion of devastating diamondback moths in 2016, Palumbo has sought to help Southwestern growers emerge more informed and better prepared to handle the next threat.
"My goal has been to develop a science-based educational program that emphasizes new information and technologies for managing insect pests in desert crops," Palumbo said. "Ultimately, reducing grower reliance on broadly toxic pesticides without sacrificing crop yields, quality and profitability."
Bringing science to bear on real-world problems
Beyond being a trusted specialist in the field, Palumbo is a leading voice in the field of entomology, focusing on insect pest management and insect-crop interactions. More specifically, his efforts to understand the population ecology of polyphagous insects that feed on leafy vegetables and melons have resulted in numerous awards, 13 book chapters, hundreds of outreach publications and 56 academic journal articles.
"Dr. John Palumbo is a world leader in conducting research on insect control that makes food production safer and more sustainable," said Bruce Tabashnik, Regents Professor and head of the UArizona Department of Entomology.
A stronger emergency program
"John Palumbo has brought a great deal of excellence to our industry," said Robert Barkley, president and CEO of Barkley Ag Enterprises and one of the leaders in the effort to raise money from donors across the Southwest to establish the John Palumbo Endowed Chair in Integrated Pest Management. "We want to make sure John has the resources to continue the world-class research he provides our industry and communities."
The John Palumbo Endowed Chair in Integrated Pest Management not only honors his contribution to the Yuma community, but provides his team emergency program funds to support initiatives such as a postdoctoral research associate and much-needed research equipment and supplies to combat emergent insect threats in real-time.
"It is a profound honor to be recognized by the industry that I have worked so closely with during my career," Palumbo said. "But to me, this is also an investment in the future of desert agriculture. The endowed chair dedicates resources specifically towards the research and outreach needed to understand an emerging pest problem and, ultimately, develop a solution."
Rosemary Brandt is a writer for the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.