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Pest Management for the Future

In the summer of 1996, both houses of Congress unanimously passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), and it became law. One of the first results of FQPA was the publication of a list of agrochemicals that were likely to be more heavily regulated or eliminated.
John Ward President and CEO, John B. Ward Tree Company, Delaware County; and member of the Southeast Pennsylvania Research Group.

John Ward President and CEO, John B. Ward Tree Company, Delaware County; and member of the Southeast Pennsylvania Research Group.

"Many, many programs developed by the College of Agricultural Sciences have been invaluable to our arborist business. The IPM program, for example, has helped us to reduce pesticide spraying by 50 percent -- that's good for the environment and has provided a tremendous cost savings for our clients and our company." 

In the summer of 1996, both houses of Congress unanimously passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), and it became law. One of the first results of FQPA was the publication of a list of agrochemicals that were likely to be more heavily regulated or eliminated. This list includes many pesticides that farmers have used for years to protect their crops. Finding alternatives that meet FQPA requirements and still allow crops to be produced profitably is difficult. Over the past 25 years, Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences has been working collaboratively with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to develop, evaluate and share Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies that are effective alternatives to traditional pesticide use. This effort includes studying new methods to control pests without dramatically increasing costs, determining which methods work well in Pennsylvania's climate and growing conditions, teaching farmers and others how to use these techniques, and informing the public that growers are responding to concerns about public health and the environment. IPM strategies also are being taught to undergraduate, graduate and public school students, paving the way for a significant shift in the way we manage pests in the future.

The Payoff

Inviting the good bugs in

The controlled greenhouse environment is a perfect place for plants to grow. It's also the perfect place for plant diseases and insects to flourish. Generally, this means that growers must use high levels of pesticides to protect their crops. But high concentrations of pesticides in greenhouses can create unhealthy conditions for workers and may produce contaminated water runoff from the sites. Furthermore, pests can build up resistance to chemicals quickly, rendering them useless to control future infestations. In addition, there is significant public concern about pesticide residues on food crops. Cooperative extension specialists are studying "biocontrol" management systems in greenhouses to reduce pesticide use. One method is to introduce "beneficials" -- natural enemies of the pests that damage plants -- into the greenhouse. In greenhouses managed this way, insecticide applications can be reduced by 50 to 100 percent. Fungicide spraying also can be reduced -- by as much as 78 percent. In addition, tomatoes grown in biocontrol greenhouses tend to produce more fruit, and growers can use bees to pollinate plants rather than labor-intensive hand pollination, generating tremendous cost savings.

High-tech forecasting

Penn State scientists are using geographic positioning system (GPS) data from satellites to reduce pesticide use in potato production. By gathering data from the field and combining it with location information from satellites, specialists are able to pinpoint hot spots where pest infestations are likely to occur. Using this type of "forecasting," growers can treat only threatened areas, rather than an entire field, with the chemicals necessary to control the problem. The technique lessens impact on the environment and has the potential to save growers between 30 and 70 percent in pesticide costs. It also has the added benefit of allowing beneficial insects to flourish in these fields. This is important because potato production generates more than $30 million in economic activity for the Commonwealth.

An E-Weather a day

Apple production in Pennsylvania ranks fifth nationally, with a market value of $50.2 million. But apples also are plagued by tenacious insects and diseases. Consequently, 66 percent of Pennsylvania's commercial apple acreage is treated with herbicides and 98 percent with insecticides and fungicides. This is of concern because pesticide runoff can contaminate groundwater, and most of Pennsylvania's apple production is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Penn State extension specialists are working with a private weather service to prepare site-specific weather forecasts and models of pest behavior during specific weather conditions. The service, called E-Weather, helps pinpoint weather conditions that promote or hinder pest development in orchards. Growers then eliminate pesticide applications when no threat exists and precisely time sprays that are necessary. And E-Weather is delivered daily right to a grower's fingertips by fax, e-mail or Internet.

IPM in landscapes

The Southeast Pennsylvania IPM Research Group is a collaborative effort among Penn State Cooperative Extension, the University of Delaware and 23 leading organizations in the thriving green industry of southeastern Pennsylvania. Members are using temperature to pinpoint when and where specific ornamental pests are active. Growers can then target control methods and frequently can use less toxic pesticides. The group also produces a weekly insect scouting report. More than 47,000 of these reports have been used by professionals. About 70 percent of subscribers have adopted IPM methods to manage insect pests of landscape plants, and many have been able to reduce their pesticide use by as much as 36 percent.

IPM goes to school. A pest control company used to visit the Carlisle Area School District in Cumberland County to spray for cockroaches and ants every month. Now, the school district has implemented an IPM program and reduced its use of pesticides. Instead of regular spraying, physical controls such as caulking cracks and replacing window screens are used, and problem areas are closely monitored. Across Pennsylvania, 40 percent of school districts are using at least one IPM method, and that number is expected to climb. Specialists from Penn State's Colleges of Agricultural Sciences and Education and Pennsylvania's Departments of Agriculture and Education are working collaboratively to develop IPM teaching materials for use by public school science teachers and to promote voluntary adoption of IPM programs in schools statewide.

The Pennsylvania IPM Program is a collaborative initiative between the College of Agricultural Sciences, including Penn State Cooperative Extension, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. For more information, call 1-800-PENNIPM (800-736-6476) or visit the IPM website at: http://extension.psu.edu/ipm