By Kim Lux
Area grape farmers now have another resource available to them at the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center, located on Cemetery Road in North East Township.
Dr. Flor Acevedo has recently been hired as an entomologist at the center. In addition to conducting vital research, Acevedo will also be working alongside local farmers to help them protect their crops from disease and insect pests.
Acevedo, originally from Colombia, moved to the U.S. to pursue her doctoral degree in entomology at Penn State University, University Park campus, where she graduated from in 2016.
“I grew up in the countryside of Caldas, one of the three departments that form the Colombian coffee zone, a place where the majority of Colombian coffee is produced,” Acevedo said. “Being surrounded by nature and agricultural farmers motivated me to pursue a B.S. degree in agronomy at Universidad de Caldas.
“As a requirement to get my degree, I had to do a research project in an area related to my major. This is how I got involved in scientific research for the first time, and I fell in love with it. I have been doing research in biology and agricultural sciences since.”
Through her education, Acevedo says her interest in entomology has continued to grow.
“At first, I was interested in entomology because I wanted to learn how to control insect pests in agricultural crops, as crop protection is one of the challenges of farming,” she said. “As I learned more about insects during my Ph.D. program, I realized they are fascinating creatures! For example, they are the most diverse group of organisms on earth, they are found in every ecosystem of the planet where they perform many important functions that include pollination and nutrient recycling.
“A very small percentage of insects are considered pests of economic importance, in fact some of them have important medical and industrial uses for humankind,” Acevedo added. “Insects are important regulators of ecosystem processes and some species can even be used to control other insects that are considered pests.”
While working at the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center, Acevedo’s focus will be on insect pests that directly affect grape crops.
“My job is to develop a research and extension program focused on the biology and management of insect pests that affect the grape industry and other specialty crops,” she said.
Acevedo added she hopes her research will help form new pest management programs for local farmers.
“I am looking forward to establishing a research program that helps solve problems faced by grape growers and the grapevine industry,” she said. “It would be very satisfying to be able to contribute to the well-being of a community through science-related approaches. I am also looking forward to meeting local growers, and learning from their experiences and hopefully I’ll build strong, collaborative relationships with them.”
When not conducting research, Acevedo said she enjoys mentoring students and providing professional development training to people interested in science.
The Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center is a 40-acre facility that grows a variety of grapes for research purposes. Additionally, the center has two weather systems to give growers daily information on the best timing for pesticide applications.
“At the center we perform research on various aspects that aim to benefit grape growers and the grapevine industry,” Acevedo said. “Specifically, we perform research on the control of diseases and insect pests that affect grapevines. Results of our research are disseminated in our website, fact sheets, local and regional grape growers’ meetings and scientific publications. This information helps growers make informed, scientifically based, decisions.”
For more information on the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center call 814-725-4601.