My research interests are rooted in community ecology and trophic level interactions. I have conducted basic and applied research into the ecology of plants, invasive insects, predator-prey interactions and biological control, insect-vectored plant pathogens, reservoir habitats, plant volatiles, and interactions between below- and above-ground communities. I think it is crucial to foster collaboration. I have worked with citizen scientists, producers and conservationists. I am passionate about engaging with stakeholders to identify challenges that guide my research. I aim to create a successful research program that develops tools to improve food production in the context of integrated pest management and sustainable agriculture. The horticulture crop industry is rapidly evolving, integrating new technologies into traditional field production and increasing production in controlled environments. My research program aims to be on the forefront of this industry, increasing the toolbox for pest management in horticultural cropping systems. My research is built on the foundation of applying ecological principles to develop novel management strategies and build collaborations within the community to increase adoption.

- Laura Ingwell

Current research projects include:

Optimizing pest management in high tunnels to increase the resiliency of local food systems

Local food systems are an important driver of specialty crop production. Despite the emerging interest and economic opportunity of local food systems, resources (e.g., research, funding) have disproportionately favored conventional large farms over the more diffuse network of small-medium sized farms that take part in direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales. One of the central tools employed by DTC farmers are high tunnels (HT), a form of protected agriculture used almost exclusively to produce specialty crops. Little is available in the way of research-backed recommendations related to pest management in HT crops, even though we know from discussions with and surveys of growers that this is a major factor limiting production. In this project, we aim to understand the impacts of crop diversity (mono- vs. polycutlure) on pest and beneficial insects across a rural to urban gradient and all four growing season (i.e., winter production). We will investigate the contribution of natural enemies to pest suppression through molecular gut content analyses and experimental manipulations of natural enemy releases on grower and research farms. We will also evaluate seasonal dynamics, and focus on optimizing production fall through spring. In collaboration with two economists, we will investigate the economic impacts of pest and crop management decisions, the value provided through ecosystem services of such Diagram Description automatically generatedpractices, and develop economically-backed decision support tools for HT growers. We anticipate the development of pest management recommendations tailored to farm cropping strategies, location and season. Decision making support tools will be created online and in print and disseminated through demonstrations.

Collaborators: Ian Kaplan, Dept. of Entomology, Wenjing Guan and Arianna Torres, Dept. of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University; Kacie Athey and Shadi Atallah, Univeristy of Illinois; Anna Wallingford and Becky Sideman, University of New Hampshire

Funded by NIFA-SCRI 2021-07737

Enhance strawberry production in north central region through tunnel-based systems

Strawberry is a highly popular fruit in local food markets. Yet, the number of strawberry farms and total production acreage is decreasing in much of the North Central Region (NCR). The high production risks related to recent extreme weather conditions across the region has made traditional matted-row strawberry production exceptionally challenging. As a result, farmers are looking for less risky and economically feasible alternative production systems. Therefore, we will conduct research to optimize three tunnel-based strawberry production systems, i.e., the soil-based high tunnel system, table-top high tunnel system, and open-field low tunnel system. Each system will have a unique research focus; we will evaluate planting date, winter environmental management, cultivar selection, supplemental pollination, plant spacing, etc. In addition, we will develop an integrated pest management (IPM) plan targeting twospotted spider mites and aphids, previously identified as the most destructive insect pests in high tunnel systems, and an emerging strawberry disease that may be misdiagnosed and poorly understood. Sustainable strategies including host plant resistance, natural enemies and organic biopesticides will be the focus of our IPM plan development. The project team includes extension specialists from Indiana and Ohio, and a farmer who has extensive experience in growing strawberries. In addition, collaborating farmers in Indiana and Ohio will conduct on-farm trials investigating production systems and generating economic data in on-farm situations. Based on the production and economic data generated, detailed budgets will be developed for each of the production systems. A comprehensive and interactive production guide will be produced that will provide readily available information for farmers who are interested in tunnel-based strawberry production. In addition, this project will lead to field days, workshops, growers’ conference presentations, and multiple newsletter articles. Results of research trials will be published in three to four peer-reviewed journal articles that are expected to enhance general knowledge of strawberry production and pest management. We anticipate that this project will encourage NCR farmers to adopt economically feasible and environmentally friendly strawberry production practices, which will increase farm income, reduce pesticide usage, and increase overall viability of small and diversified farms in the NCR. Further, an increased supply of strawberries in local markets will provide consumers with a popular, healthy and fresh fruit.

Project led by Wenjing Guan, Dept. Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University

Collaborators include: Dan Egel, Dept. of Botany and Plant Pathology, Purdue University; Brad Bergefurd, The Ohio State University; Richard Barnes, Trellis Growing Systems LLC.

Funded by USDA NCR-SARE LNC21-454

Investigations of spectral light quality as a pest management tool for hemp production

We aim to optimize the production of hemp in controlled environments by investigating propagation techniques and the use of spectral quality to manage insect pests, pathogens, and nutritional and sensory qualities of the plant. This is the first study we are aware of that is aimed at utilizing light prescriptions to maximize nutritional and sensory qualities of the crop while minimizing pests. Independently, light quality can suppress diseases, with the potential for insect control, while improving the overall quality of the crop in various systems. This is especially important in the application of CBD hemp production, a growing commodity with high input costs and zero pesticides available to manage pests. Furthermore, the chemical content is highly regulated under licensing laws and changes in THC (Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), as a result of genetic instability or abiotic and biotic factors, can lead to the rejection and destruction of an entire crop. Here we propose to establish a foundational understanding of the potential to manipulate light quality to improve hemp production. The ultimate goal of our efforts is to provide prescriptive light regimes to increase the hardiness of clones during the propagation phase reducing transplant loss, minimize disease and pest infestations in indoor production systems, optimize biological control methods when pests are encountered, and produce a more predictable and high-quality crop.

Collaborators: Petrus Langenhoven and Joshua Widhalm, Purdue University Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Funded by Purdue AgSeed

Improving two-spotted spider mite management in high tunnel cucumber production

This project is broadly aimed at increasing the economic viability of crop diversification in high tunnel systems. High tunnels (HT) are a popular tool that increase the growing season in temperate climates and offer protection from environmental stressors, such as frost and excessive rain. High tunnels have been increasing in use across the US, in part due to the NRCS-EQIP program that offers financial assistance towards the investment in these structures. Some of the most economically viable crops currently grown in high tunnels include tomatoes, leafy greens and increasingly cucumbers; tomatoes are currently the dominant crop with little or no crop rotation. Furthermore, there are pest and disease challenges associated with high tunnels that need more effective, sustainable management strategies specifically developed for these production systems. Some of the pest and disease challenges also limit crop rotation. For cucumber production, exclusion-screening tactics were developed by Project Coordinator-Ingwell as a strategy to manage one of the most important pests: cucumber beetles and the bacterial pathogen they transmit. Two-spotted spider mites (TSSM) are the other major challenge because they are difficult to detect and monitor and there are few miticides available for high tunnel systems, none of which are permitted in certified organic production. The aim of this project is to develop an integrated pest management plan that minimizes the impacts of TSSM on cucumber, thus increasing the viability of producing cucumbers in HT. We aim to provide cultural and biological strategies including selection of more tolerant cultivars and the application of soil amendments to increase tolerance, develop an effective and easy to adopt scouting protocol, and establish recommendations based on the optimization of commercially available TSSM natural enemies for biological pest suppression. We will also evaluate the efficacy of biopesticides and application methods as an additional management strategy, recognizing that cultural and biological control may not be effective or appropriate in all situations. Relevance will be ensured by engaging with farmers and conducting on-farm research.

Collaborators: Liz Maynard, Petrus Langenhoven, and Wenjing Guan, Purdue University Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Funded by USDA NCR-SARE LNC20-438

Examining the utility of black soldier fly larvae composting on urban farms

Urban farmers face many unique challenges associated with the urban environment in which they produce. One of the most expensive and limited resources is access to healthy soils. There is often low organic matter and industrial contaminants present in urban soils, resulting in the need for remediation, such as capping and importing topsoil and compost. Recently, black soldier fly larvae (Hermetia illucens; BSF) have been recognized as an efficient organism used to break-down organic matter and produce a soil amendment comparable to traditional fertilizers. These fly larvae can feed on a wide range of organic waste (plant material, biosolids, food waste, etc.), can break down contaminants such as pharmaceuticals or pesticides, and impact the bioavailability of heavy metals. The resulting material is a digestate that can be applied as a soil amendment, much like the vermicomposting processes of worms. Fly pupae can be harvested and used as a nutrient dense feedstock for livestock or reared to adults to continue the cycle of composting. Knowledge gaps remain regarding the impact of feedstock on the nutritional quality of the digestate for crop production and the application and implementation of BSF composting on-farm. My research aims to fill in these gaps, increasing our understanding of BSF composting for vegetable production and implementing on-farm capabilities to generate compost with organic waste produced on-farm or within the community. Ultimately, I hope to provide a strategy for producing nutrient-dense soil amendments tailored to urban farming systems, thus increasing the sustainability of locally grown produce on limited-resource farms. Through laboratory assays and on-farm trials I will identify the optimal feed source (food waste, plant debris, spent brewing grains, manure) and stocking rates of BSF to produce viable compost for vegetable production. The digestate from this process (compost product) will be evaluated as a soil amendment for the production of vegetables. Results from this work will be disseminated through on-farm demonstrations with collaborating urban farmers, a field day at our research farm, extension publications and presentations/demonstrations at grower meetings.

Funded by USDA NCR-SARE GNC20-311