Posted: June 14, 2018

This is the 6th of eleven short news articles written by students, during the professional development class. This year we had the students interview their advisor(s), in an effort to help them better understand the larger context of their projects.

Got Slugs? Call John Tooker!
By Sarah McTish

Receiving calls and emails from all over the country, Dr. John Tooker of Penn State's Entomology Department is working to solve a problem. Nationally, Pennsylvania ranks 6th in milk production with more dairy farms than any other state except Wisconsin. However, among the onslaught of pests plaguing Pennsylvania dairy farms, slugs are taking the stage and farmers do not know what to do.

While delving into the realm of slugs, Tooker said that the most unexpected outcome was "the fact that so many people are influenced by slugs so much and that they call me. Some farmers even follow my suggestions, and it works. That's amazing!" In Pennsylvania, slugs have become a major pest for growers producing feed for livestock, such as dairy cows. Tooker's lab is conducting slug research to find ways to improve pest management to a point where farmers can become more sustainable and use fewer inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides.

To combat slugs, Tooker has joined the Northeastern SARE Dairy Cropping Systems team for a nine-year project. This interdisciplinary team has an end goal of minimizing off-farm inputs and therefore, environmental impacts, for the average sized dairy farm in Pennsylvania. This will allow the dairy farmer to produce all of their needed feed and forage on farm.

Tooker and his team are studying this system by using a diversified cropping rotation of annual and perennial crops, and comparing that to a more traditional cropping rotation. The diversified cropping rotation uses annual crops, like corn, soybean, and canola, and perennial crops like alfalfa. This diversified rotation also utilizes cover crop management to maintain soil health and different fertilizer and pesticide practices to maintain plant health. The more traditional cropping rotation rotates between planting corn and soybean with more standard pesticide and fertilizer use.

By the end of this nine-year project, Tooker and his lab will have a better idea of how different crop management tactics will influence slug populations, helping farmers to make the best decisions in their crop and pest management plan. In the end, it is their hope to solve this sluggish problem and increase milk production for Pennsylvania dairy farmers.

Who knew? Slugs and cows are linked!