The Area wide Pest Management for Wheat program recently completed four years of cost-of-production interviews and a series of focus groups with wheat producers. The project, which began in the fall of 2002, was designed to demonstrate management techniques for the Russian wheat aphid and the greenbug.

“Management techniques include crop rotations, which minimize the prevalence of wheat pests and costly treatments. For producers, the bottom line is selecting farm enterprises that maximize profit. Focus groups and interviews were a way for researchers to explore grower’s experiences with dryland cropping systems involving winter wheat,” said Sean Keenan, a postdoctoral fellow of Oklahoma State University’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology.

The project, formally named “Biologically Intensive Area wide IPM of the Russian Wheat Aphid and Greenbug,” is one of several area wide programs developed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

“Our project team includes specialists from the ARS laboratory in Stillwater, Okla., as well as scientists and extension specialists from five land-grant Universities,” Keenan said.

Nearly 150 wheat growers from six states participated in annual cost-of-production interviews for 2002-2005 and two focus groups. States included in the project are Nebraska, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Colorado.

At each focus group session, growers discussed cropping systems, yields, pests and a variety of production practices. In addition to the group meetings, the growers were interviewed individually each year to evaluate the economics of their individual farm enterprise.

“Most of the original growers have stayed with us since 2002,” said Paul Burgener, economist from the University of Nebraska.

Data was collected for four years so that researchers can look at the variability from year to year. An economic summary of this data should be available by January 2007.

“It’s really only been this last year that these growers have experienced severe insect problems in wheat,” Burgener said.

“We have definitely seen some changes since we first met them,” Keenan said.

According to Burgener, many growers are becoming dissatisfied with wheat and changing cropping systems.

“They’ve been fighting the narrow margins for a long time,” Keenan said.

Keenan and Burgener noted a pattern throughout the project of growers reducing cultivated acreage. They said many growers are planting more grass or putting acres into government programs. Other growers are looking to retirement or increasing their livestock.

“A large portion of our growers are in survival mode, just trying to maintain,” Keenan said. “Where some are experiencing challenges, others are finding opportunities. Some are finding local niche opportunities like hay markets, for example.”

Burgener said they will be able to use the four-year economic data set to comprehensively summarize these changes and the profitability of various combinations of farm enterprises.

For a copy summary of data collected during interviews and focus groups, email Shanna Boyett at sboyett@okstate.edu. To learn more about the ARS “Area wide Pest Management Program,” visit www.ars.usda.gov/Business/docs.htm?docid=6555 .