Patrick M. Phipps received his B.S. degree in biology from Fairmont State College, WV, in 1970, his M.S. degree in plant pathology in 1972 from Virginia Tech, and his Ph.D. degree in plant pathology in 1974 from West Virginia University. His major professor was the distinguished mycologist H. L. Barnett. He spent nearly 4 years at North Carolina State University as a post-doctoral and visiting assistant professor in plant pathology, and he had responsibilities for research on the biology and control of Cylindrocladium black rot of peanut and for teaching in the General Plant Pathology course. In 1978, he was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science (PPWS) at Virginia Tech and was stationed at the Tidewater Agricultural Research and Education Center at Suffolk. His assignment was to conduct research and extension projects on peanut diseases, mainly those associated with fungi and nematodes. Later, he included other crops grown by peanut farmers in southeast Virginia, namely corn, soybean, cotton, and small grains.
Phipps has an outstanding record of sustained, high-quality research and of bringing results of his research to grower clientele through extension and outreach efforts. In his research projects, Phipps has sought to implement effective, economical, and safe control measures for important field crop diseases. He has had phenomenal success in finding and validating scientifically sound approaches to maximize profits and to minimize pesticide usage, thus lessening the risk to farm workers, the environment, and the general public. To enhance his own expertise, he has cooperated extensively with colleagues at Suffolk, the Virginia Tech campus, and locations throughout the South. Among his cooperators are plant pathologists, agronomists, engineers, and meteorologists, as well as several graduate students and a dependable staff, all of whom are recognized in publications. Results of his research greatly enhance his extension program to the degree that in his commodity-oriented programs, extension, and research can hardly be separated.
The following activities highlight some of his significant contributions.
The Virginia Peanut Leaf Spot Advisory was developed in 1981 in cooperation with USDA scientists and was improved through inputs from his graduate students. The advisories were issued as a recorded message daily on a toll-free Peanut Hotline. This program reduced the former seven applications of fungicides on a 14-day schedule to only three or four timely applications per season. On Virginia’s peanut acreage, this program saved farmers about $3 million annually (1981–1990) and reduced fungicide usage by 125 tons annually (1985–1990). Savings have continued to the present, although the peanut acreage has been reduced because of the declining value of peanuts over the last decade.
In 1991, Phipps implemented a Peanut/Cotton Weather Network (PCWN), which provided electronic weather-based advisories for county agents and growers to make timely disease management decisions. The program output was delivered as recorded toll-free advisories on the Peanut Hotline. The Peanut/Cotton InfoNet was established in 1995 as an additional, Internet-based way to get information out to clientele. This work was the subject of an invited feature article in Plant Disease (81:236-244) in 1997.
Control of Sclerotinia blight has been a challenging problem for plant pathologists. Through persistent screening and field testing, Phipps found fluazinam to give excellent control of Sclerotinia blight in addition to Rhizoctonia pod and stem rot and to southern blight caused by Sclerotium rolfsii. Control of these diseases with fluazinam represented a great stride toward improving the efficiency of disease control. Timely application was keyed by daily advisories through the PCWN and Peanut Hotline. Cultivar choice, timely planting and harvesting, seeding rate, and crop rotation each contributed an increment of control as well. For this work, he received the William F. Murphy Technology Award from Virginia Tech in 2001 in recognition of his leadership in the use of electronic technologies in cooperative extension.
Collaborative research with Elizabeth Grabau has recently produced new peanut germplasm that is highly resistant to Sclerotinia blight. Their approach was to isolate an oxalate oxidase gene from barley, insert it by recombinant DNA techniques into plants of three commercial cultivars, and test the transgenic progenies for ability to resist the disease. Four years of field testing have shown effective disease control and increased yields. Tests are in progress for satisfying regulations for release of transgenic cultivars to growers. The product of this research was the first demonstration and use of transgenic germplasm for control of a peanut disease.
Phipps was the first to develop and implement an effective strategy for control of Cylindrocladium black rot (CBR) of peanut using metam sodium. Today, CBR is managed by an integrated pest management program involving sanitation, variety selection, crop rotation, planting date, soil fumigation, and scouting, all developed or refined by Phipps, colleagues, and students.
Diagnostic and Predictive Nematode Assays, in cooperation with Jon Eisenback and the Nematode Laboratory at Virginia Tech, have enabled growers to accurately manage use of nematicides in field crops. In 1989, growers reduced granular nematicide usage by 212 tons over previous years, saving $800,000 and lessening environmental impact.
Phipps has served on several committees of APS and on the editorial boards of Plant Disease, Biological and Cultural Tests, Fungicide and Nematicide Tests, and Plant Disease Management Reports, and he currently serves as a senior editor of Plant Health Progress.
His actions, successes, and excellence as a plant pathologist have been recognized and honored consistently by statewide organizations, commodity groups, colleagues, and professional organizations. Awards include citations from the Virginia Peanut Growers Association (1979), the Virginia Cooperative Extension (1994, 2001), the Virginia Crop Consultants Association (2000), the American Peanut Council (2000), the Southeast Farm Press (2005), the Virginia Tech Agricultural Alumni Organization (2007), the Virginia Soybean Association (2007), and the Virginia Agribusiness Council (2008). He is a six-time winner of the Bailey Award from the American Peanut Research and Education Society (APRES) for best paper presentations (1985, 1990, 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2007). In 1994, he was the recipient the APS Excellence in Extension Award.