New York State IPM Program

March 14, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on When It Rains, It Pours: Anatomy of a Wet Year

When It Rains, It Pours: Anatomy of a Wet Year

Remarkable, how much things can shift in a single year. Case in point: the growing season in 2017 compared to that in 2016. The contrast was stark, with ’17 as wet as ’16 was dry.

These things matter to all of us. After all, there are over 35,000 farms in New York, covering over 20 percent of the state’s land. New York ranks in the top six nationally in the production of more than 22 agricultural commodities. Our ag economy contributes a lot to New York’s economic well-being. Milk alone is worth nearly $2.5 million.

True, it wasn’t wet everywhere in New York. But the places that were? Like they say: when it rains, it pours. Results?

  • Saturated soil.
  • Flooded fields.
  • Delayed planting (or no opportunity to plant).
  • Unable to get equipment into the field.
  • Crop disease (wet soils promote disease).

More than half of farmers ranked these as extremely or very important. All were all directly linked to yield loss. But here’s something: 95 percent noted a negative effect on the quality of their crop.

So many options! A pie chart can be worth a thousand words.

Farmers in the wettest areas were the ones who responded to a recent Cornell survey seeking to learn the impact these heavy rains had on farmers and what they’d have done differently—had they but known. It’s title: The Anatomy of a Wet Year: Insights from New York Farmers.

For instance, 82 percent of farmers use drain tile or ditches to help cope with relentless rain. Seventy-two percent said the rains showed weakness or limitations in drainage infrastructure.

Here, farmers noted which practices lessened the impact of heavy rains.

If you know the IPM mantra, you know that prevention is key to good IPM. But how do you stop the rain? The take-away: our farmers are likely to face new and potent climate-related problems, whether it’s increasingly heavy rains or short-term droughts. Researchers, extension educators, NYS IPM, NGO’s, planners, engineers, NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets—anyone with ties to agriculture in New York will be called on to help farmers adapt to an uncertain future.

_________________

References:

Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC) www.nrcc.cornell.edu/regional/monthly/monthly.html.
National Climate Assessment (NCA; 2014) nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/our-changing-climate/heavy-downpours-increasing#graphic-16693.
Sweet et al. (2017). www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168192317302800
Wuebbles et al. (2014). journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/BAMS-D-12-00172.1

“Anatomy of a Wet Year” was funded by Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and The Nature Conservancy. For more information, contact Shannan Sweet: 607 255 8641, sks289@cornell.edu

March 7, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on So many acres, so little time: IPM’s answer to where the pests are

So many acres, so little time: IPM’s answer to where the pests are

It might not look that way from your car window, but farmland covers 23 percent of New York. It’s the foundation of New York’s multi-billion-dollar agricultural economy—one that benefits all of us, no matter where we live.

Zooming out to read the report? How easy it is to forget a severe drought after a year like 2017.

Most of that cropped land? It’s in field crops: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and the like. (These crops sustain New York’s dairy industry, third in the nation.)  Scouting all that land for pests? A job for super-heroes—or lacking that, an efficient, well-designed app.

So IPM researchers built the app. Now Extension educators with their boots on the ground and a smartphone in their pocket can note hotspots for bad little buggers. Each entry helps map trends that matter: where the pests are, when they got there, and where they’re likely to show up next.

The educators’ audience? Why, farmers, of course.

True, right now the app is mainly used by educators tracking data. But the turnaround is quick, keeping farmers in the know and New York’s farm economy healthy. Think of it as scouting on steroids. Scouting is what keeps farmers abreast of what’s happening out in the field and what they can do to prevent or minimize damage (core values of IPM!). Downloading the data farmers need, then visualizing, manipulating, and editing it—that and more, this app does it all.

March 1, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Climate, Weather, Data: Change Is the Name of the Game

Climate, Weather, Data: Change Is the Name of the Game

Nearly two years ago, NYS IPM convened “Climate, Weather, Data,” a statewide conference focused on pests and our changing climate. Because it’s here. It’s real. So … what will a shifting climate mean for our farms and forests, our parks and gardens?

The Climate Change Garden plans and plants for the future. Photo credit E. Lamb.

We brought together researchers, crop consultants, farmers, and more from New York and the Northeast for an eye-opening glimpse into the future. One example must speak for the rest: the Climate Change Garden, housed at the Cornell Botanic Gardens, demonstrates how a range of food and nectar crops are like messengers from the future. They speak to the effects of warming oceans, drought, heavy rain, and rising temperatures on food crops, pollinator resources, and superweeds.

As if on cue, the winter of 2015-16 followed by the drought of 2016 (not to mention the rains and temperature swings of 2017) was a messenger from the future in its own right. Drought threw a monkey wrench into IPM-funded research intended to create weed forecasting models in both conventional and organic systems. Conclusions? As the researcher charitably put it, the unusual 2016 weather provided a good opportunity to look at the limiting impact of low soil moisture; with additional years of data collection, this should be a valuable year.

And take IPM research on the brown-marmorated stink bug, aka BMSB. Because of the staggering number of crops on its chow-list, and, come winter, its role as a most unwelcome houseguest in offices and homes, BMSB has plenty of people riled. But dramatic temperature swings in winter and spring (especially spring) tricked BMSB into ditching its cold hardiness too soon and falling prey to that last sudden cold snap.

We could go on, but do we need to? You get the picture. It’s a brave new world out there, and change is the name of the game.

 

February 21, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Planning for pollinators: No time like now

Planning for pollinators: No time like now

$1.15 billion. That’s what the 450 species of wild pollinators that call New York home contribute to our agricultural economy each year. But we’ve seen alarming declines in pollinators of every stripe and color. Some are bees and wasps. Others are flies and butterflies (and on the night shift, moths). Their loss is worrisome to everyone from rooftop gardeners to farmers with a thousand-plus acres in crops. These people depend on pollinators to grow the foods we eat, foods ranging from pumpkins and pears to blueberries and beans.

In fact, anyone with a garden or even planter boxes on their balcony has reason to care about pollinators. And there’s no time like the present to start planning for this year’s pollinator plantings.

This hover fly is among the hundreds of wild pollinators that contribute to NY’s ag economy—not to mention our parks and yards. (Photo courtesy D. D. O’Brien.)

IPM’s mission covers everything from farms and vineyards to backyards and parks, protecting all kinds of non-target plants and animals (even covert pollinators like tiny bees and flies ). That’s why we were invited to help out in 2015 when Governor Cuomo announced an interagency task force, led by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Department of Environmental Conservation, to develop and promote the New York State Pollinator Protection Plan, or PPP. In fact, New York is among the first 10 states to officially adopt a PPP.

The PPP was released in 2016. And the best thing is, it’s not going to stay on the shelf. This is a living document, a roadmap of sorts to guide IPM researchers and educators, farmers and householders as they plan IPPM—Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management protocols — to keep pollinators healthy for decades to come.

We’re pleased to be aboard.

January 16, 2018
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on We give awards: IPM, excellence, and Julie Suarez

We give awards: IPM, excellence, and Julie Suarez

True — this media release dates back to January 4. But that’s not so long ago, and for someone like Julie Suarez it bears repeating. In short: we presented Julie (whom you’ll meet in a minute) with an Excellence in IPM award for—well, we could name a host of reasons. But we’ll let this speak to some of the best.

Advocacy and accolades earn Excellence in IPM award for Cornell champion Julie Suarez

Four hundred-plus wild
pollinators: this hover fly is
one of many that contribute to New York’s multi-billion-dollar
ag industry — not to
mention flowers in our landscapes. Courtesy Dawn Dailey O’Brien.

GENEVA, NY, January 4, 2018: Julie Suarez’s passion is people. People at work, people at home, people in need. Whether it’s about the farm or urban communities, she’s keenly aware of the pests and the problems. She knows the issues, the legislators, the associations and nonprofits. She’s a natural.

Now Suarez, assistant dean of Governmental and Community Relations at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), has received an Excellence in IPM award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYSIPM) for her unstinting advocacy for the people and programs at Cornell on issues that matter to all New Yorkers.

An accomplished facilitator, Suarez helps people

  • deal with invasive pests that threaten the livelihood of many farmers
  • preserve the pollinators—the honey bees and their kin—that are key to growing fruits and vegetables worth $1.15 billion to New York’s economy
  • cope with the relentless pressure of ticks and tick-borne diseases, which affected an estimated 8,000 New Yorkers in 2017 alone

Accolades for Suarez include:

  • Julie was instrumental in addressing the crisis when a new pest, a tiny fruit fly the size of a pinhead, threatened to put berry farmers out of business. She would answer questions, provide guidance and inform—usually responding to emails within minutes. I don’t know how she did it.
  • Julie reached out to me about research on pollinator health as soon as I arrived at Cornell. I’m impressed with the breadth and depth of her knowledge and her ability to work with scientists, officials and stakeholder groups statewide.
  • Julie is keenly aware of the key issues for state legislators, noting the committees they serve on and the needs of their constituents. That’s how the NYSIPM Program became involved with the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease.

“Julie is proactive, strengthening the bonds between  the  IPM  Program  and the community at large,” says New York Senator Sue Serino, herself a leader in the fight against Lyme disease. “She consistently exceeds the expectations of those around her.”

“Julie brings legislators in Albany to Cornell and Cornell researchers to the legislators. She gets it that programs like ours take science to the people,” says Jennifer Grant, director of NYSIPM. “It’s a privilege working with Julie to serve all New York’s citizens.”

Suarez received her Excellence in IPM award on January 4 at the NYS Agricultural Society’s Annual Forum in Syracuse, NY. Learn more about IPM at nysipm.cornell.edu.

Left to Right: L-R: Dean Kathryn Boor, CALS; Commissioner Richard Ball, NYS Ag & Markets; Assistant Dean Julie Suarez, Governmental and Community Relations, CALS; Director Jennifer Grant, NYS IPM ; President Beth Claypoole, NYS Ag Society. Photo provided.

November 22, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Gray squirrels skittering around to keep up — their pantry or yours?

Gray squirrels skittering around to keep up — their pantry or yours?

PUBLISHED ON November 11, 2017 | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County

“Squirrels have been criticized for hiding nuts in various places for future use and then forgetting the places. Well, squirrels do not bother with minor details like that. They have other things on their mind, such as hiding more nuts where they can’t find them.”

Although those that feed birds think squirrels are there strictly to torment them, squirrels are quite useful in maintaining hardwood forests.

Unfortunately, that succulent passage was penned in 1949 by W. Cuppy in his book “How To Attract A Wombat.” I say unfortunately because I wanted to write it first, but was unable to get born in time. The tradeoff, which is that I got to be quite a bit younger than he, probably worked out for the best anyway.

Before learning stuff like “facts” about squirrels, it made me feel smug to think that their attention span was even worse than mine. Popular wisdom used to hold that the fluffy-tailed rodents spent half their lives burying nuts, only to forget about most of them a few minutes later. I figured that was why they generally seemed frantic, always thinking they hadn’t stored any food yet.

The great thing about the whole affair is that tons of butternuts, oaks, hickories and walnuts get planted each fall, mostly in flower boxes, but some in actual forests where they can grow to maturity. As a kid I would see untold numbers of squirrels in parks, on college campuses and around dumpsters, but few in the woods. The latter, I assumed, were lost, or in transit to a day-old bakery outlet.

So it came as a surprise to learn gray squirrels are native to temperate hardwood forests, at home in large unbroken tracts of woods. In fact, squirrels are critical to the survival of many nut-bearing trees. Walnuts, acorns and hickory nuts, which do not tend to waft on the breeze so well, and which soon dry out and degrade on the ground, need someone to cart them off and plant them in the ground.

Gray squirrels can be so numerous in the human domain that they become pests. Photo credit: get down flickr

The irony is that while gray squirrels can be so numerous in the human domain that they become pests, they are disappearing from the forests that depend on them for regeneration. The reason is that most woodlands today are patchwork. In a shocking failure of the free market, it seems no one is making large contiguous tracts of forested land any more, even though they’re increasingly rare.

It’s hard to criticize agriculture, especially if you eat on a regular basis, but clearing land to grow food has fragmented our woods. One problem with breaking up forest land is that animals may need more than just a piece of it at a time.

Gray squirrels have large, shared territories with no real borders. Although they are great at things like tree planting and eating the faces off Halloween pumpkins, they’re not so good at running across fields to the next patch of trees. Well the running works OK, but not the looking out for predators. Gray squirrels evolved in a world where hiding places grew on trees. As a result, predation was low. But since the time they have been forced to hike out in the open, hawks, coyotes and foxes have taken a bite out of wild squirrel populations.

Red squirrels, however, are moving into habitats once occupied by gray squirrels. It seems logical to think that an army of red, fluffy nut-planters would be just as good as propagating an oak-hickory forest as the gray, fluffy sort were. Not so. The reds, which evolved among conifers, are accustomed to stashing pine, spruce and fir cones in hollow trees or right out in the open. When they encountered acorns and nuts, they carried on with this tradition. In the open-air caches of the red squirrels, tree nuts desiccate and become non-viable. Nothing gets planted. Also, red squirrels have smaller, discrete territories they do not share, so they’re not as apt as the grays to gallivant over to a nearby block of trees, and thus they avoid those pesky carnivores. In this way they’re better adapted to a fragmented forest than the grays are.

Getting back to forgetfulness, science has polished up the reputation of gray squirrels by observing them. Evidently no one thought of doing this novel procedure until 1990. That’s when Lucia F. Jacobs and Emily R. Lyman of Princeton University’s Biology Department set up a series of nut-caching experiments with gray squirrels. And hopefully a few interns as well. Their impressive article was published in the Journal of Animal Behavior in 1991, and is readily available online in case anyone has an attention span longer than mine.

I should mention that gray squirrels are considered “scatter hoarders,” stashing nuts and acorns all over the place. They tend to dig them up and rebury them as many as five times prior to winter, possibly to confound greedy neighbors or pilfering jays. Each successive re-cache takes them farther and farther from the parent tree, which is good in terms of forest ecology.

Jacob and Lyons concluded that even after waiting 12 days, gray squirrels quickly located about 2/3 of the nuts they buried, but that they also exhumed a few that weren’t theirs. However, each squirrel managed to end with at least 90% of the original number provided by researchers. This shows that memory is the primary means of locating cached tree nuts. And that while they don’t plant as many trees as we once thought, they make up for it by planting each one many times.

The search continues for a squirrel-proof bird feeder. Photo credit: Ken flickr

Many thanks to Paul for letting us share his piece! For more information on what to do to prevent squirrels from planting trees in your flower boxes or, worse yet, nesting in your attic, visit the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program’s What’s Bugging You – Wayward Wanderers webpage. When it comes to keeping them out of bird feeders, you are on your own.

Paul Hetzler is a forester and a horticulture and natural resources educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County

November 7, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Pollinators, awards — and IPM

Pollinators, awards — and IPM

Just one short week ago, we celebrated the College of Agriculture and Life Science at Cornell University’s Outstanding Accomplishments in Extension and Outreach Award. This award honors a team effort that benefits an important segment of the population or area of the state.

It takes teamwork — whether you’re a bee or a researcher. (Photo Sasha Israel)

New York, like the rest of the world, is highly dependent on the hundreds of species of crop pollinators that collectively contribute roughly $170 billion a year to the global economy. Many are in decline and under threat in New York and elsewhere.

That’s why Dean Kathryn J. Boor ’80 recognized the Cornell Pollinator Health Team for their outstanding outreach accomplishments in a ceremony that celebrated research, extension and staff excellence.

Pollinator Team at the 2017 CALS Award Ceremony

On hand to accept from Dean Kathryn Boor (L) were (L-R) Jennifer Grant, Bryan Danforth, Dan Wixted and Scott McArt.

The seven-member team includes entomologists, extension  outreach specialists and pest management experts  — one being NYS IPM‘s director Jennifer Grant.

The team provides critical extension and outreach on pollinator declines, including information on

  • optimal habitats for honey bees, native bees, and other pollinators
  • diseases that afflict bees
  • how pesticides affect bees — other pollinators too
  • what to do when your honey bees are in decline

Hi. I’m a hover fly and I pollinate lots of plants too. Plus my larvae eat aphids for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And no, I won’t sting you. (Photo credit Susan Ellis.)

With its focus on extension and outreach, the team has given more than 70 extension talks over the past three years in New York and elsewhere on pollinator health, bee diversity, integrated pest management practices and pesticide recommendations that minimize risks to bees — to all pollinators, in fact. Their audiences have included beekeepers, farmers, and lawmakers — as well as state and national organizations such as the New York Farm Bureau, the Audubon Society and Future Farmers of America.

“In three short years, the work of this team has made a notable impact both in scope and relevance to beekeepers,” Boor said at the ceremony. “The pollinator health team represents a model for how collaboration among different units at Cornell can lead to highly integrative and creative extension and outreach.”

September 28, 2017
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on In praise of messiness

In praise of messiness

KEMPTVILLE, ONTARIO. — On my twice-monthly drive on Highway 416 between Prescott and Ottawa, I pass the sign for Kemptville, a town of about 3,500 which lies roughly 40 km north of the St. Lawrence. It has a rich history, and no doubt is a fine place to live, but one of these days I need to stop there to verify that Kemptville is in fact a village of surpassing tidiness. (It’s Exit 34 in case anyone wants to take some field notes and get back to me.)

Most of us would prefer not to live in totally unkempt surroundings, but Western culture may have taken sanitation a bit too far. Claims that cleanliness is next to godliness have yet to be proven by science, but research does indicate a neat, well-coiffed landscape is bad for bees and other pollinators.

Dandelions are an essential early-season flowers for our 416 species of wild bees in New York.

With all due respect to honeybees, they are seldom required to produce fruits and vegetables. Please don’t spread this around, as I do not want to tarnish their public image. But the fact is that wild bees, along with other insects and the odd vertebrate here and there, do a bang-up job pollinating our crops, provided there are enough types of wild plants (i.e., messiness) around to keep them happy for the rest of the season.

As landscapes become neater and less diverse, wild bees cannot find enough natural foods to keep them in the neighborhood for the few weeks of the year we’d like them to wallow around in our apple or cucumber flowers. In sterile, highly manipulated environments like almond groves and suburban tracts, honeybees are critical.

Dr. Scott McArt, a bee specialist at Cornell’s Dyce Laboratory for Bee Research, says there are an estimated 416 species of wild bees in New York State. When I estimate stuff, the numbers tend to be less exact, such as “more than three,” but I’ve met Dr. McArt, and I trust him on this count. Dr. McArt is quick to point out that wild critters take care of things just fine in most places. He has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. My object is not to malign honeybees, but to point out that if we learn to live with a bit more unkemptness, we will improve the health of wild bees, wildflowers, food crops, and ourselves in the process.

Dr. McArt has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. There was a presentation about it at the 2015 Pollinator Conference.

Messiness also takes pressure off managed honeybees, an increasingly fragile species, by providing them a rich source of wild, non-sprayed nectar and pollen. Orchardists do not spray insecticides when their crops are flowering because they know it will kill bees. But many fungicides, which are not intended to kill insects, are sprayed during bloom. One of the unexpected findings of research done through the Dyce Lab is that non-lethal sprays like fungicides are directly linked with the decline of both wild bees and honeybees. But banning a particular chemical is not a panacea—the situation is far more complex than that. What is needed to save bees of all stripes is a real change in mindset regarding landscape aesthetics.

This garden at Bethpage State Park Golf Course is an excellent example of entropy. Primarily established with native wildflowers, there are also a significant number of volunteers. NYS IPM staff found over 100 different species of insects, primarily bees and wasps, taking advantage of the bounty.

Increasing the entropy on one’s property is as easy as falling off a log (which of course is a literal example of increased entropy). Pollinators need plants which bloom at all different times, grow at various heights, and have a multitude of flower shapes and structures. For greater abundance and diversity of wild flowering plants, all you need to do is stop. Stop constantly mowing everything. Choose some places to mow once a year in the late fall, and others where you will mow every second third year. Stop using herbicides, both the broadleaf kind and the non-selective type.

Before you know it, elderberry and raspberry will spring up. Woody plants like dogwoods and viburnums will start to appear. Coltsfoot and dandelions, essential early-season flowers, will come back. Asters and goldenrod (which by the way do not cause allergies), highly important late-season sources of nectar and pollen, will likewise return.

Despite their unassuming flowers, Virginia creeper attracts a large number of pollinating bees and wasps. Photo: Joellen Lampman

Wild grape, virgin’s bower, Virginia creeper and wild cucumber will ramble around, without any help whatsoever. However, you may choose to help this process along by sowing perennial or self-seeding wildflowers like purple coneflower, foxglove, bee balm, mint, or lupine. Even dandelion is worth planting. You’ll not only get more wild pollinators, you’ll also see more birds. Redstarts, tanagers, orioles, hummingbirds, catbirds, waxwings and more will be attracted to such glorious neglect. No feeders required.

I strongly advocate for more chaos in the plant department, even if the local Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Board frowns upon it. Remember, just because you’re an unkempt community doesn’t mean you have to change the name of your town.

Many thanks to Paul for letting us share his piece! For more information on protecting pollinators and enhancing their habitat, visit the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program’s pollinators webpage.

September 13, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on 35,500 western bean cutworms later, it’s a record year for IPM in corn

35,500 western bean cutworms later, it’s a record year for IPM in corn

Got a sweet tooth for sweetcorn? You’re in good company. So should you hear rumors on the wind about wormy sweetcorn — or field corn or dry beans (the kind you put in your soup kettle) and you’re curious about what’s behind them, here’s the scoop:

The western bean cutworm (just call it “WBC”), a recent invasive, is making waves in the midwestern and eastern corn belts. This pest made landfall in New York’s million-plus acres of field corn in 2010, its numbers spiraling ever upward since. This year, though, has been a record-breaker. WBC has become a pest we can count on for a long time to come.

To cope with WBC, the New York State IPM Program coordinates a “pheromone trap network” for WBC in field corn; in dry beans too. A second IPM trap network focuses on sweetcorn, though it also traps for WBC in beans.

But what is a pheromone and how does the network work? Think of pheromones as scents that insects send wafting on the wind to alert others in their tribe that something important is happening — and the time to act is now. In this case, pheromones are the “come hither” perfumes female moths use to advertise for mates.

Trapped — one more male out looking for a date.

But lures imbued with chemical replicates of pheromones can intercept males on their quest, dooming them to a very different fate. IPM scouts strategically place special trap buckets around corn and bean fields.  Each contains a “kill strip” treated with an insecticide. Farmers, Extension educators, and crop consultants check the buckets each week to count their take.

And though it’s their larvae — the worms — that give WBC its name, here we’re counting the adults; in this case, moths.

It’s traps — and scouts — like these that do the job.

This year the two networks combined have caught more than 35,500 moths — far more than in any other year. Those in the know, know — this is not good. WBC is a sneaky critter. It even eats its eggshells as soon as it hatches, removing evidence that it’s out and about. Meanwhile, trap network numbers can vary considerably from county to county; even from farm to farm. Regardless, when armed with counts in their area farmers know when it’s time to ramp up scouting their fields. Because once they’ve reached threshold — the IPM “do-something” point — it’s time to act.

Why wait till a field reaches threshold? Because sprays are expensive — both to the farmers’ bottom line and the environment.  Because time is money too; spending it needlessly out on a rig does no favors. Because treating only at need is one very good way to keep all these costs as low as can be.

Because — it’s what IPM is here for.

September 5, 2017
by Bryan Brown
Comments Off on Weed control specialist joins NYS IPM

Weed control specialist joins NYS IPM

Bryan Brown

Bryan Brown, Ph.D., is the new Integrated Weed Management Specialist

I’m Bryan Brown, the new Integrated Weed Management Specialist at NYS IPM. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to work with growers and promote IPM solutions for weed management. I came here from the University of Maine, where I compared the economic and ecological effects of several weed management strategies and tested a new cultivation technology that uses several tools, sometimes in tandem, to target the in-row zone.

Integrated weed management

No single weed control tactic is completely effective. And relying on one single tactic is how weeds develop resistance. So what we need to do is integrate more tactics. Attack weeds in as many ways as possible. For conventional growers, a basic step is to use a range of herbicides with different modes of action. Other direct controls include cultivation, flaming, mowing, and biocontrol.

Less direct tactics can also make a huge difference in weed control effectiveness. For example, crop rotation allows for use of different herbicides, fertility, and tillage dates — all of which can be adjusted to combat certain weed species. Likewise, crop cultivar and plant spacing can be altered to maximize competitiveness with weeds, and cover-crop residues can lessen weed emergence. Growers can be even more successful with these practices if they are used to target the biology and life cycle of their most problematic weeds.

When many growers think about weeds, they think of big nasty plants. But I like to encourage growers to think about weed seeds. The number of weed seeds in the soil is very important to the success of weed control tactics. Even if you kill 99% of the weeds in your crop, if you start with 1,000 germinating weed seeds per square foot (yes, that’s common), ten of those weeds will survive and compete with your crop. So depleting the number of weed seeds in the soil is key to effective management. As is often the case in IPM, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

How do you reduce the number of weed seeds in the soil? Control weeds before they produce seed, mow crop boarders to prevent seeds from blowing in, and use seed-free fertilizers. You can also create a stale seedbed by encouraging weed seeds to germinate, then killing them before planting. With these techniques, some farmers have sharply reduced the number of weed seeds in their soil, improving their in-season weed control.

Next steps

I’m especially interested in finding weed management solutions that have multiple benefits. For example, cultivation kills weeds but can also be used to increase nitrogen mineralization, improve water infiltration, and control soil-dwelling pests like cutworms. Cover-crop residue can suppress weeds but it can also increase soil organic matter, interfere with navigation of some insect pests, and reduce splashing of soil-borne pathogens. So perhaps weed management can be integrated with management of soils, pathogens, and insect pests?

If you’re interested, please contact me at 315-787-2432 or bryan.brown@cornell.edu.

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