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High tunnel with insect screen on rolling sides may exclude pests. (Conceptual photo: A. Majumdar)

Mechanical barrier for insect control is not a new concept, but Alabama Extension Vegetable IPM Team along with a group of producers has re-imagined and advanced the application of physical exclusion system for high tunnel producers who are in great need of a “pest prevention” tactic that is easy and cost effective. In south Alabama, Will Mastin of Local Appetite Growers has fitted 50% shade cloth on nearly five high tunnels to reduce pest pressures and improve crop quality. Similarly, Steve Carpenter of Jack-O-Lantern Farms in north Alabama used a 30% shade cloth keep out large moths from the tunnel crops. Another on-farm demonstration site with 40% shade cloth is under development.

Along with these cooperating producers, we have conducted laboratory studies using high tunnel models fitted with various grades of woven shade cloth and gained very useful insight about the effectiveness of physical exclusion that closely match field observations. This High Tunnel Pest Exclusion or HTPE system costs about 19 to 25 cents per square foot using 30 to 40% shade cloth and basically entails installation of fabric on the side-walls and end-walls (having tight sealing structure is critical to the success of HTPE system). Overall idea is to block large insect pests from coming in when the side walls of a high tunnel are rolled up for temperature regulation. So far we have had great success with 40% woven shade cloth to stop armyworms, stink bugs, and leaffooted bugs without completely excluding beneficial insects (lady beetles). So the HTPE system is a “work-in-progress” technology and we will continue to develop it with pioneering producers who are giving HTPE a try on their farm. We are also evaluating a variety of other woven materials and fabric for their pest control potential inside high tunnel or open field crop.

 

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