"Spectacular" results from Tuta pheromone trial in tomatoes

Mating disruption has proved a highly effective way to control moth Tuta absoluta in tomato crops, integrated pest management (IPM) specialist Rob Jacobson told the British Tomato Growers Association (TGA) conference yesterday.

Integrated pest management (IPM) specialist Rob Jacobson - image: HW
Integrated pest management (IPM) specialist Rob Jacobson - image: HW

The moths, whose larvae mine the plant's leaves and which damage the appearance of fruits, are already showing resistance to Spinosad, derived from the bacterium Saccharopolyspora spinosa, Jacobson said.

Mating disruption, which works by overwhelming males with the female mating pheromone, making them unable to find a partner, "requires high concentrations of pheromone, but fortunately a Japanese company, Shin-Etsu, now manufactures a synthetic pheromone under the name Isonet T", he explained.

A predatory bug, Macrolophus caliginosus, which predates the the moth larvae, is also already available but needs time to build up effective populations, he explained. "By the time Macrolophus was established, the pheromone had done its job."

The AHDB Horticulture-funded research project took place at Cleveland Nurseries near Middlesbrough. Grower Richard Bezemer said: "The trials have been so successful that we now believe we are completely free of the pest and the cost of the pheromone offset investment in other control products."

But Jacobson warned that Tuta absoluta is also capable of parthenogenesis or asexual reproduction, adding: "Over-use of this could result in selection for this trait, so it should only be used as part of an IPM programme."

He also revealed results of a TGA survey of growers' attitudes to "native" bumblebees, which Natural England has mandated for UK glasshouse pollination since 2015.

"Bombus terrestris terrestris and B. terrestris dalmatinus were better at the job than the native subspecies B. terrestris audax," he said. "Sixty-nine per cent of growers thought audax was 'unacceptable', and no grower thought they were better at pollinating than the other subspecies."

The survey forms part of AHDB-funded research by the TGA into the question, which will conclude in December.

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