Project battles slugfest in field crops


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Slugs are one of the most challenging pests faced by no-till field crop growers in the Northeast, but a new Penn State project is looking to contain these pests while benefiting the environment.

According to John Tooker, assistant professor of entomology at Penn State and project coordinator, recent research suggests that neonicontinoid insecticides can have negative impacts on natural predators of damaging pests such as slugs.

“Neonicontinoids are a newer class of insecticide adopted in field crops over the past 20 years as a less toxic replacement of older classes of insecticides like organophosphates.”


Neonicontinoids and their use in preventative seed coatings has expanded enormously and now hundreds of millions of acres of corn, soybean, cotton, sunflower, canola and other field crops are planted annually with neonicontinoid seed treatments.

“Unfortunately, the great majority of NSTs are used outside an integrated pest management program with little regard for the threat level of pest populations or economic benefits of the practice,” Tooker explained.

Integrated pest management, or IPM, aims to manage pests — such as diseases, weeds, insect and other animals — by combining physical, biological and chemical tactics that are safe, profitable and environmentally compatible.


Funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the project will build on previous research to test an alternative approach to slug management that avoids NSTs and uses rye cover crops to provide an alternative food source for slugs while maintaining strong populations of potential predators.

“Our research shows cover crops can help keep slug populations down. Conversely, NSTs in our research seem to make slugs harder to manage,” said Tooker.

The two-year project will compare slug damage in corn and soybeans grown in commercial fields where there was a fall planting of rye cover crop to fields grown without a cover crop and use NSTs.

Research findings will be shared with Mid-Atlantic field and forage crop growers and other agricultural professionals at regional meetings.


Tooker said the widespread use of NSTs outside an IPM framework is particularly concerning because agricultural pests have such a strong ability to evolve resistance against insecticides.

“In addition, our project is relevant for pollinators because recent research has implicated NSTs used in corn production having a negative effect on honey bees populations.”

The project is also relevant for water quality and runoff issues because alternative slug management options will decrease the use of toxic pesticides targeting slugs in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.


For more information on the project, contact Tooker at 814-865-7082 or email
For more information on the EPA’s Regional Agricultural IPM Grants go to

The Pennsylvania IPM program is a collaboration between the Pennsylvania State University and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, aimed at promoting integrated pest management in both agricultural and urban settings.
For more information, contact the program at 814-865-2839, or go to


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