One of the best attended sessions focused on controlling common garden insects. Jaime Piņero, state integrated pest management specialist, fielded a number of questions in his talk about Japanese beetles. Piņero said grubs from the beetles are in the upper surface of the soil in September before digging lower to escape winter temperatures.
Piņero said the major chemical agents for killing Japanese beetles will kill all other insects as well. Since 90 percent of Missouri insects are harmless, he cautioned against wholesale chemical usage. One alternative is spreading nematodes, which will eat the larvae. Nematodes will only work under the right temperature and moisture conditions. Milky spores can also work but take time to apply.
Traps offer an effective strategy for killing adult beetles, though Piņero warned the pheromone lures need to be placed away from the crop or garden itself. Looking for the most effective traps, Piņero found a homemade version using an inverted soda bottle and netting was just as effective as commercial versions. In a month, he caught 120,000 beetles.
A growing concern in the area is stink bugs, an enemy to tomato crop. Stink bugs inject a toxin into fruit in the feeding process. Piņero cautioned against wholesale chemical solutions, particularly because the spined soldier variety eats caterpillars and larvae of pest insects.
Piņero was most concerned about the approach of the brown marmorated stink bug, which is very hard to kill and attacks soybeans and corn. Piņero distributed pictures of the insect as an alert. So far the brown marmorated stink bug has been seen in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, but not in Missouri.
Wayne Bailey described his research on bed bugs, which have proliferated in recent decades. Old time strategies such as putting the feet of a brass bed in dishes of oil, seems to work. Bailey recommended never fully unpacking luggage in a hotel or motel and keeping items like laundry in sealed bags. A professional firm can charge up to $3,500 and require three visits to rid a home of bedbugs.
A micro-gardening workshop offered alternative ideas on managing small scale crop production. Tim Reinbott, manager of the Bradford Research and Extension Center in Columbia, brought a wide variety of tomatoes from the 115 planted by the university. This year's crop was smaller than usual because of the heat.
Reinbott said taste was affected this year as well. Cherry tomatoes are usually the best. Heirloom tomatoes produced a sizable crop this year, though the larger fruit often has a lot of waste. Alternative varieties, like black tomatoes and tomatillos, can offer very tasty crops.
One of the problems Reinbott saw this year came from a hail storm in July that left lesions on the plants. He recommended applying a fungicide shortly after such damage. He also advised against rotating tomatoes and bell peppers, as both come from the same family.
The experts generally agreed the best way to water plants is from the ground, preferably using the drip method. Watering from the top can spread disease and rain splatters dirt onto the plants, spreading disease as well.
One of the big success stories at the Southwest Center has been the vineyard, which sold its crop last year to Williams Creek Winery in Mt. Vernon. This year's crop appears very good, and harvesting has begun. The northernmost row of vines collapsed in a wind storm over the summer. The center's staff opted to leave the plants on the ground to evaluate how well they did.
Unharvested grape plants were covered with netting with holes about an inch square. Andy Allen explained that next to disease, animals are the biggest threat to the grape crop. Birds are the worst. Robins will hop below the nets, looking for an opening, then fly up inside and be unable to escape. Allen said the nets are about 98 percent effective in keeping out animals.
A workshop on energy conservation approached the subject on a small and large scale. Bob Schulthesis, a natural resource engineer, discussed home and farm energy audits. A number of universities, such as North Dakota State and Michigan State have step-by-step instructions for how to assess potential energy loss in the farm on their websites. Instructions for a residential self-audit are avaliable from the University of Missouri.
Heating and cooling is the top energy user. Water heaters are the second. Schulthesis talked about shifting tractors up to save RPM demand, reducing the energy needed by 30 percent. He suggested reducing pressure for irrigation, using an arc welder for jobs involving thin sheets and installing larger water lines to reduce irrigation friction.
Agribusiness specialist Wesley Tucker discussed the effort to get landowners to sign contracts to produce plants for biomass energy production. Tucker said the MFA Oil Company's push to secure 50,000 acres to grow the miscanthus giganteus grass leaves many unanswered questions. MFA will not commit to a specific buying price nor is the local production potential at all clear.
"Make sure you know what you're getting into." Tucker said. "There's a lot of possibility and risk. There are not that many contracts out there yet to compare."
Field Day offered experts on many areas of farm production. Livestock specialist Eldon Cole offered a session on marking cattle. He advised producers learn how to evaluate the way cattle fill out to recognize which animals gain weight better than others. He suggested looking at cattle when they are wet for a clear view. Better filled out cattle should be fed separately to make better use of feed.
Forester Skip Mourglia discussed types of trees found around the farm and how they can serve as both windbreaks and a valuable source of fruit and nuts.
The dairy tour provided the latest research on different grasses used in the grass-based dairy on the center's farm. Forage specialist Rob Kallenbach discussed how much nitrogen may be too much in grasses.
In the walking tour of various projects at the center, research assistant horticulture specialist Andy Thomas showed off persimmons and several gardens. He explained one of the new projects this year has been elderberry plants, which are being studied for the medicinal quality of their fruit.
Attendance was high at Field Day this year with help from area colleges, Cole said.