HERMISTON — When Silvia Rondon first arrived in Hermiston in 2006, local farmers were struggling with a surge of potato tuber moths damaging their crop.
Rondon, a professor and entomologist at Oregon State University’s Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, was just establishing her program focused on integrated pest management for irrigated row crops in the Columbia Basin.
After studying the pernicious insect, Rondon and her team learned the moth’s larvae prefer to feed on the leaves of young potato plants. Rather than spraying seven or eight pesticide applications throughout the growing season, farmers could spray once or twice closer to harvest before the foliage shrivels and dies.
“That is the critical time,” Rondon said. “Once the foliage, which is the preferred feeding host of the pest, is gone, that’s when they start attacking the tubers.”
Over the years, Rondon has helped growers in northeast Oregon and southeast Washington battle a variety of infestations, including potato psyllid, potato beetle and lygus bugs.
Her experience has led Rondon to a new position as director of OSU’s Integrated Pest Management Center, helping farmers across Oregon and the Pacific Northwest improve their production.
The Integrated Pest Management Center — formerly known as the Integrated Plant Protection Center — is based at OSU’s main campus in Corvallis, though Rondon said she will remain in Hermiston for the time being and continue to oversee the station’s entomology program.
Rondon was selected by an 11-person search committee consisting of members from OSU, the state Department of Agriculture and industry groups. Her appointment is effective July 1.
“I am super excited about this position, and the new challenge ahead of me,” Rondon said. “I think my expertise fits really well.”
Integrated pest management is about more than pesticides. It takes into account things like crop selection, mechanical controls, biological agents such as harnessing beneficial insects and regular field monitoring. These practices work in tandem to keep pest populations at manageable levels.
The center has four signature projects, including pesticide risk management and safety education and pest and weather modeling. The fourth project is working with researchers and growers to put integrated pest management plans into action.
Rondon said she is looking forward to expanding the center’s influence, and improving communication within those networks.
“A lot of people do fantastic work within their own niches,” she said. “Better communication will really connect the dots.”
In an email announcing Rondon’s appointment, Alan Sams, dean of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences, said she will help to strengthen the center, “enhancing our strategic goal to help our industries compete in their markets, domestically and globally.”
Being based in Hermiston has given Rondon a broad grounding. The Columbia Basin, with its loamy soil and climate consisting of hot days and cool nights, grows more than 200 irrigated crops, each of which poses its own challenges and opportunities.
Umatilla County leads the state in production of vegetables, melons and potatoes, according to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, with sales topping $111 million.
“My specific program here in Hermiston will continue to be driven by the needs of local growers,” Rondon said. “I am extremely appreciative for all the support they have given me.”
While her background is in entomology, Rondon knows she has more to learn in her new role. Integrated pest management involves not only insects, but plant pathology and weed and livestock management, she said.
“The other pieces have not really been part of my job,” she said. “What I want to do is to keep learning.”