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Always another disease on the horizon

The main work that Dr. Gary Grove does at the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser involves trying to understand and prevent disease on fruit trees in the area. He told the Sunnyside Noon Rotary Club on Monday that he is also acting director of the WSU program. Grove said his center is the largest irrigation research station in the area, with more than 1,300 acres in the Prosser and Othello areas. The research done at the center helps local farmers and orchardists fight diseases. "There's always another disease," the Rotary club guest speaker said. "Every year something new comes along that we have to learn how to fight." He talked about a success story in fighting the problem of cutworms. The standard method to get rid of the pest involved extremely toxic insecticide sprayed across the plant. A researcher studied the problem closely and determined a way to stop the cutworms by spraying around the trunks of the trees. "He hooked up a sprayer with a light sensor to a four-wheeler, and it sprayed every trunk," said Grove. "It saved tons of money in insecticide and reduced the amount applied, while being effective." He also described a project in which the research team learned removing leaves from grapevines at a certain time in the season reduced the chances of a fungal infection. "The labor to remove the leaves was cheaper than the fungicides needed to deal with the problem," he said. He also told the group about a research team working on biofuels made from tropical plants. He noted they had to do some of their studies in Hawaii. "I'm not convinced it's not just a way to get a vacation each year," he said to laughter. Grove also talked about a website called AgWeatherNet at weather.wsu.edu that supplies farmers with updates on weather patterns. "If you suspect a frost is coming, just log in," he said. "You'll see hundreds of people checking the site." After his main presentation he answered a few questions, including one about genetically modified plants. "I'm not doing any research on GMOs right now," he said. "But human beings have been modifying plants genetically for thousands of years. The main concern right now is with creating new genes." He noted that rabbits, when introduced to Australia, reproduced quickly and devastated the landscape. He compared the introduction of rabbits with the introduction of new, man-made gene sequences. "The consequences of introducing a new organism were huge in that case," he said. "They may not be as bad with genetically modified wheat, but the problem is that we don't know what impact they might have if the modified wheat somehow escapes into the wild." He said a GMO wheat crop that had not been put into production had appeared in the wild in a field in Oregon. Although it didn't have any obvious negative effects, the appearance of it outside lab conditions was a concern. "Any introduction of genetic material can have unintended consequences," he said. "I'm not against GMOs, but I believe something like that should be tested for years before it's released."

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