Where he is now: Graduate research assistant and Ph.D. candidate
After receiving an undergraduate education in biology and working in fish and wildlife management, Louis Nottingham developed an interest in sustainable agriculture, appreciating its “real-world” applications, especially in horticulture and field crops. While searching for a graduate program, he ran into entomology professor Thomas Kuhar at a Virginia Tech research field, where the two discussed the importance of sustainable pest management. A short two months later, Nottingham moved to Virginia to work with Kuhar.
In the course of his studies, Nottingham received a 2013 SARE Graduate Student grant to research cultural strategies for controlling Mexican bean beetles in snap beans, grown on over 5,500 acres in Virginia and considered an important crop in the state. He focused on strategies that could reduce the need for chemical foliar applications on snap beans.
Originally he was not looking at mulch as a possible strategy, but was able to add it as a research objective when he got the SARE grant. Mulch wound up being the best alternative he found. “The grant allowed me to expand my research and dive deeper into some of the questions I had,” Nottingham says.
The project found that reflective or metalized plastic mulches significantly reduce populations of Mexican bean beetles, a serious pest of snap beans, while increasing yields. The mulch produced significantly greater pod yields than all the other treatments—more than double that of bare soil plots.
Although metalized plastic mulch costs roughly $45 for 200 feet and black plastic costs about $30 for 200 feet, mulch is cost effective because growers can more than double their yield compared to bare soil, according to Kuhar.
True to the Graduate Student grant program’s purpose, Nottingham recognizes the real-world benefit of his research. “Because our plastic mulch study is very applied and produced clear results, I encourage growers to try planting beans on metalized mulch, especially if they encounter large populations of Mexican bean beetle,” he says.
In his Ph.D. program, Nottingham is pursuing some of the other strategies he evaluated, using the preliminary data he collected during his SARE project.
Virginia Tech entomology professor Thomas Kuhar has served as faculty advisor on four SARE Graduate Student grant projects, including Nottingham's, and is a fan of the program.
Kuhar appreciates the program because it teaches students grant writing and project management. The program encourages students, he says, to include additional research objectives to an ongoing project, especially ones that take a closer look at sustainability and help farmers with the challenges they face. It “clearly gets the students thinking about the research that they are doing and how it fits in the real world,” Kuhar says.
The other SARE Graduate Student grant projects Kuhar has advised include:
- Trap cropping for management of Harlequin bug in cole crops (Anna Wallingford, 2009)
- Making Pest Management More Sustainable in Cucurbit Production (James Wilson, 2014)
- Improved trapping strategies for managing harlequin bug: Applying recent research and discovery of its aggregation pheromone as a tool for vegetable growers (Anthony Dimeglio, 2015)
Nottingham co-authored the following Extension publications with Kuhar, his faculty advisor:
- Mexican Bean Beetle (ENTO-51NP)
- History, Distribution and Pest Status of the Mexican Bean Beetle (ENTO-62NP)
- Pediobius foveolatus - A Parasitoid of the Mexican Bean Beetle (ENTO-170NP)
See scholarly publications at www.researchgate.net/profile/Louis_Nottingham.