UMES researcher awarded nearly $600K to control earworms on sweet corn

MARYLAND- Over half a million dollars in grant money is being awarded to a University of Maryland Eastern Shore researcher.

The money coming from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Capacity Building Grant.

We are told the university is using that money to help with a new project that will support farmers.

“Corn earworm is number one pest in sweet corn production, so farmers face a lot of problems with this insect pest,”  Doctor Simon Zebelo, UMES professor and researcher, said.

Dr. Zebelo said right now pesticides are the main way to protect sweet corn from earworms, but they want to change that.

“We are trying to see a safe way of controlling this insect pest,” Dr. Zebelo, said.

Dr. Zebelo said they have been working with a blend of bacteria strands that could possibly enhance sweet corn’s defense from earworm.

This grant will also give them the boost they need to work with local farmers, buy more equipment, and employ students to help see if the bacteria works.

“That’s probably one of the best monies spent as far as research goes, research into saving food, and preserving food, and how to grow food because we’re going to need it,” Virgil Shockley, said.

Overall, both Shockley and Dr. Zebelo said if researchers can figure out a way to control earworms in sweet corn without the use of pesticides it could be a win for all.

“Not just going out spraying everything in site, let’s try to figure out the middle ground here at least and come up with something that works,” Shockley said.

Dr. Zebelo said this project will not only help farmers, but also bring a new UMES weed science course to the university, with the collaboration of the University of Maryland College Park.

He said he hopefully will start the class in spring 2021.

Dr. Zebelo also adds that the funding will also go to training 2 grad students, 3 undergrad students, and 3 interns on the project.

We’re also told that he already has farmers identified to work with in Princess Anne and Delaware.

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