Entomologist Kelley Tilmon joined the faculty of The Ohio State University in 2016 after nearly a decade of serving as South Dakota State University’s soybean expert.
Her lab’s approach is simple and practical:
“All our research is driven by what the farmers need,” said Tilmon.
These days, what Ohio soybean farmers need is advice on managing the brown marmorated stink bug. Its population has exploded in recent years, damaging soybean crops along the way.
Tilmon and her colleagues are working to develop more effective scouting techniques for soybean farmers. They’re still in the preliminary stages of adapting a method that has already seen success in fruit orchards: a plastic card coated with thick, sticky material and an irresistible insect pheromone designed to trap curious stink bugs.
Growers can count the number of insects collected and extrapolate that value into a general area population. Tilmon hopes that growers will eventually be able to use the cards in soybean fields across the state.
“It can save a lot of time when scouting insects,” said Tilmon. “Rather than literally beating all the bushes, farmers can let the stink bugs come to them.”
Another project on Tilmon’s radar pertains to good insects in the soybean fields, specifically, pollinators.
“Soybeans are self-pollinating, so we typically don’t think of pollinators as mattering that much,” said Tilmon. “But there are indications that having a good pollinator community in soybeans can provide a little bit of a yield advantage.”
With the help of local soybean growers who let OSU researchers use their fields for study, Tilmon’s team has been able to identify several dozen species that make up the soybean pollinator community. It’s not just the typical honeybee at work, but a wide variety of native bees and flies also playing a part.
For Tilmon, collaborating with farmers to make these discoveries is really the best part of the job.
“Ohio farmers are just fabulous and interesting and engaged with Ohio State research, and incredibly supportive of the work we do,” said Tilmon.
She appreciates the insight they provide to her own study and the forward-thinking attitude they have toward the industry of farming.
“I find that farmers are very receptive to my thoughts about what might be important in the future,” said Tilmon. “For example, one thing we’ve been concerned about is an invasive insect call the kudzu bug. It can cause huge damage to soybean production, and its range has expanded into Kentucky, which runs along our southern border. The Ohio Soybean Council has been funding us to run a monitoring program in southern Ohio to monitor for kudzu bugs and give us an early warning if it shows up in our state. Farmers are aware that they need to look to the future and fund research on it.”