MANHATTAN, KANSAS, U.S. — Kansas State University (KSU) scientists Kun Yan Zhu and Subramamyam "Subi" Bhadriraju, in collaboration with scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Oklahoma State University (OSU), are on the hunt to find the best, safest and most cost-effective ways to manage insects in facilities such as wheat flour mills, rice mills and pasta plants.

Their search was recently bolstered by new USDA funding of $782,000, awarded to Zhu, Bhadriraju, and a team of scientists from USDA’s Center for Grain and Animal Health Research in Manhattan, plus OSU in Stillwater. The team will evaluate, integrate and implement non-fumigation-based pest management approaches for food processing facilities. The research, to take place over the next three years, builds on work that started in 2008 with initial funding of $784,000 to Subramanyam and others.

"Food processing facilities in the United States are replacing whole structure treatments with methyl bromide (MB) — an ozone depleter, with treatments using sulfuryl fluoride (SF) and heat," said Zhu, who is a professor of entomology at KSU and a principal investigator on the project. "Federal law specifies that the use of MB was to cease by 2005 in developed countries and by 2015 in developing countries, but a process was established where groups could receive critical exemptions while exploring MB alternative strategies."

Replacing methyl bromide treatment with sulfuryl fluoride and heat treatment also has its drawbacks, he said. SF is less effective at temperatures below 80 degrees F, especially on eggs of stored-product pests. Heat treatment may not be suitable for all facilities and may be more expensive than methyl bromide, plus temperatures over 122 degrees F, if not properly controlled, may have an adverse effect on some structural parts of facilities.

And that’s where the work of the researchers comes in. Joining KSU’s Zhu and Bhadriraju on the project are USDA researchers Franklin Arthur, James Campbell, Paul Flinn and Emily Jenson, and Brian Adam of OSU.

"The costs and benefits of these various integrated pest management strategies in food processing facilities have not been critically evaluated, optimally integrated or compared with whole facility treatments," said KSU’s Bhadriraju. He is a professor of stored-product entomology, based in the Department of Grain Science and Industry.

"We have recently concluded tests in our Hal Ross Flour Mill on campus, where methyl bromide, sulfuryl fluoride and heat were compared side by side for the first time," added Subramanyam. The results from these tests were shared at three workshops held in 2009 and 2010. The current project adds to the body of information on methyl bromide and alternatives that all of the scientists have been working on for over a decade.

"We’ll evaluate the costs and benefits of various integrated pest management (IPM) strategies, such as sanitation, inbound inspection, stock rotation, visual inspection (to monitor pests), trapping/sampling of pests, application of crack and crevice treatments, and more specifically the use of aerosols (fogging)," he said. Many companies have stepped away from whole facility treatments and have been successfully managing stored-product pests using aerosols, in combination with other IPM tactics.

For this study, the team is setting its sights on the red flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, a common and economically important pest in food-processing facilities.

Some of the research will be conducted at KSU’s Hal Ross Flour Mill in Manhattan, and other studies will take place at 10 to 15 cooperating commercial facilities.

Once the team has sufficient data, the cost-effectiveness of various IPM tactics will be evaluated through detailed economic analyses," Subramanyam said.

The researchers plan to share their findings with grain industry groups through a hands-on workshop in late spring, 2011 and presentations at industry meetings. Outreach efforts will be supplemented with printed materials and electronic formats.