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Faculty Focus

Five Questions for Greg Loeb

Dr. Greg Loeb is professor of entomology at Cornell University based at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY where he has research and extension responsibilities for grapes and small fruit crops.  He received his Ph.D. in entomology from the University of California at Davis and MS in ecology from San Diego State University with training in insect ecology, plant-insect interactions and integrated pest management.  Broadly speaking, his goal is to solve arthropod pest problems in viticulture and extend crop protection information to stakeholders that are cost effective and minimize environmental impacts. 

What inspired you to work with grapes?
I did not start out in graduate school specifically looking to work with grapes, but I did want to conduct research that made a difference for agriculture.  Working with grape growers over the past 20+ years has been great. As a group, growers are well informed about IPM, open to new information, and willing to try new approaches.  I have great respect for grape growers, and farmers in general, because of how much they need to know about so many different topics to be successful.  And no matter how informed they are, their success any given year is still partly determined by things they don’t have full control over like the weather. 

What projects are going on in your lab right now?
We are currently working on three research projects in grapes, two involving separate collaborations with Cornell plant pathologists Marc Fuchs and Wayne Wilcox. With Marc we are studying approaches to managing spread of grape leafroll disease by managing insect vectors in combination with cultural practices such as rogueing.  With Wayne and his PhD student Megan Hall we are exploring the role of insects, particularly Drosophila fruit flies, in sour rot epidemiology and testing approaches to management.  Our third research project is working with NYSIPM grape specialist Tim Weigle on grape rootworm, which has re-emerged as a significant pest of grapes, especially in the Lake Erie region.

What are the major challenges in your field?
We have both challenges and opportunities in the field of entomology with respect to crop protection.  As exemplified by spotted wing drosophila and brown marmorated stink bug, invasive insect pests are an increasing problem faced by agriculture, including viticulture.  With the level of international trade only increasing, these issues will not be going away.  We need both public and private funding to support the research that is needed to better understand the basic biology and ecology of these new pests and develop pest management alternatives. The rapid advances we have seen in our understanding of plant and insect genetics and genomics and in computer, data processing and remote sensing technology present great opportunities for improvements in crop protection in grapes and other crops.  But we will need to find the funding to support the research that needs to be done to move from ideas to useful tools. 

How will your research benefit the grape industry?
My research program, in collaboration with other researchers and industry, is providing knowledge, approaches, and tools that help grape growers make sound crop protection management decisions that are cost effective and minimize environmental impacts. Our current research on the role of Drosophila fruit flies in sour rot disease is a good illustration of this. Although we do not yet fully understand the underlying mechanisms involved, our research has shown that fruit flies can exacerbate sour rot development in susceptible cultivars, especially in years where environmental conditions are conducive for disease development.  Moreover, under these conditions applying insecticide close to harvest targeting insect vectors, in combination with a biocide targeting the bacteria and yeasts associated with development of sour rot symptoms, is recommended.  On the other hand, in seasons not conducive for disease development or when managing less susceptible cultivars, applying insecticide for sour rot control is not be cost effective.

What was the best piece of research advice you have received?
I have received excellent advice from several people.  My major advisor back at UC Davis, Rick Karban, used to wear a T-shirt that said “Dare to be Naïve.” I think this is good advice for scientists because it encourages us to think outside of the box and question our preconceived notions of how things work. Wendell Roelofs, my colleague at Cornell Entomology, now retired, when faced with research results that just did not make sense used to say that the data is telling us something and it’s our job to figure it out.  And my current colleague Charlie Linn advises us to watch the insect because it will tell you what’s important. 

Bonus question(s): What was the last wine you enjoyed (and what is your favorite wine and food pairing)?
Anthony Road Riesling.  I really enjoy seafood such as scallops paired with a nice dry NY Riesling.