Tomatoes were produced on 546 farms in Mississippi in 2012, with a total production of 339 acres. Greenhouse production of tomatoes accounts for a further 83 farms and 6.05 acres [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2017]. Based on these data, 86% of tomato production in Mississippi is conducted in the field. Average tomato production area per farm is 0.57 acres. Of farms reporting tomato production, 47.3% were smaller than 0.49 acres, and only 8.8% of farms were larger than 0.99 acres (Posadas, 2018a). Tomatoes were produced on 40.4% of vegetable farms, with production constituting ≈0.9% of total vegetable production area (USDA, 2017).
Insect pests have a significant effect on crop yields and quality. In crops with extensive pesticide use and cultivars with resistance to insect and disease, losses have been estimated between 20% and 30% of total yield (Lucas, 2011). Information on degree of damage resulting from insect pressure in small-scale vegetable production is limited. Lack of access to restricted use pesticides and cultivars with limited resistance to insect and disease may result in extensive losses. Improved crop protection strategies may lead to significant increases in production efficiency (Lucas, 2011).
Due to difficulty in monitoring for pests for threshold-based approaches, applications of insecticides are frequently conducted on a calendar schedule. However, variability in pest populations leads to inaccuracy and ineffectiveness of applications. Improperly timed pesticide applications are both expensive and may worsen problems by affecting beneficial insect species without effectively controlling the target pest (Herms, 2004). Concern regarding impacts of pesticides on the environment and human health has led to development of integrated pest management (IPM) programs. These programs involve use of observation of pest populations in the field to direct timing of pesticide applications. Central to the concept of IPM is use of an economic threshold of a population level where application of a pesticide is advisable. IPM programs have been widely successful in reducing pesticide use while increasing profitability of crop production (Allen and Rajotte, 1990). Economic thresholds require an understanding of crop market value. Because of unpredictability and variability of markets, economic thresholds can be difficult to apply. As a result, action thresholds have been developed as levels of pest density that result in loss of crop quantity or quality (Schuster and Smith, 2015).
In comparison with average pesticide use in agriculture, applications of pesticides by fruit and vegetable producers was seven times greater (Fernandez-Cornejo, 1996). Vegetable producers are required to produce high yields as well as avoid losses in crop quality caused by pests because of a lack of tolerance for blemishes by consumers (Lamichhane et al., 2016). High investments in crops and high-quality standards have led to large numbers of pesticide applications and increased labor costs for fruit and vegetable production (Picanço et al., 2007). Adoption of IPM in these crops may lead to significant reductions in pesticide applications without damage to yield quantity or quality (Picanço et al., 2007). Because of its roots in entomology, the primary criterion used for adoption of IPM has been use of action thresholds and pest population monitoring in making decisions to apply pesticides (Kogan, 1998).
Organic vegetables represent an increasingly important segment of the vegetable production sector. The market for organic foods has increased at an annual rate of 20% to 30% in the United States and Europe (Barker and Sorenson, 2003). Consumers concerned with pesticide residues perceive organic products as offering a choice lower in or free from pesticide residues (DeLind, 2011). Efficacy for synthetic pesticides is often greater than organic controls. When management practices were investigated, type of pesticide used was the most important factor affecting insect populations (Hummel et al., 2002). A thorough understanding of crop and pest ecology and use of multiple control strategies is essential for effective control of insect pest populations under organic standards (Pujari et al., 2013). Buildup of insect pests is particularly problematic in organic production; however, use of synthetic pesticides may result in long-term problems, such as development of resistance in both insect pest and pathogen populations and elimination of natural enemies that may otherwise control pests (Hummel et al., 2002).
Morphological and physical characteristics of plants are associated with attraction, feeding, and oviposition of insect pests (Saberfar and Sheikhi, 2009). Thus, plant phenology may influence pest populations because of factors such as maturation date, which vary according to plant cultivar. In addition, pest population development is favored by high temperatures and plant cultivars that vary in their development time may experience differing levels of pest pressure (Yurk and Powell, 2010). Under field conditions, temperature and relative humidity have been shown to affect populations of tomato pests such as aphids (Aphidoidea) and whiteflies (Aleyrodidae) (Waluniba and Alemla Ao, 2014).
The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of alternative insect pest management strategies on the economic return of small-scale tomato production. Strategies considered in this study were management based on a calendar spray schedule, conventional pesticide management based on action thresholds, and management based on action thresholds using organic controls.
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