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.
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
PUBLISHED ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2017 | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County
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.
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.
August 1, 2017
by Bryan Brown Comments Off on Abandoned fields: Weedy disaster or IPM opportunity?
Farmers across New York have been struggling with the overabundance of rain this year — meaning that some cornfields never got planted. The result? Weeds have really taken off.
So what? If there’s no crop for weeds to compete with, what’s the danger?
Weeds make seeds, lots of seeds, which could cause a disaster in the next few crops. My research shows that plots where weeds went to seed had 10 times as many weeds the following year. If any of those weeds are herbicide resistant, they’ll drop thousands of herbicide-resistant seeds into farm fields.
But there’s hope. As of late July, most of these weeds are still flowering and haven’t set seed yet. Mowing is a great option to quickly prevent (classic IPM tactic!) the flowering weeds from setting seed. Yes, after mowing those weeds may send up new flowers. So it is important to kill them with herbicides or tillage before planting summer cover crops (check out the Cornell cover crop decision tool) or fall plantings of forage or winter grains.
Doesn’t look like corn, does it? Weed seed production could cause disaster in future crops. But most of the weeds have yet to set seed — so management options are still on the table.
For many problem weeds, most seeds will die in the first couple years in the soil. So if you can keep weed seeds from entering the soil this year, you can really cut down the number of seeds in your soil. In IPM, prevention is the name of the game.
July 20, 2017
by Abby Seaman Comments Off on Got late blight in your garden? Here’s what to do.
Some varieties of potato — Elba, Kennebec, Sebago, and Serran among them — have some resistance; they will slow but not prevent late blight infection. If late blight becomes prevalent in your area, fungicides can protect your plants.
But act quickly, applying fungicide before plants are infected. Why? Products available for gardens cannot cure existing infections.
Want to track where late blight has been found? Sign up for text or email alerts on the usablight.org web site.
What to do if you find late blight in your garden
Take immediate action — otherwise you’ll be a source of infection for other gardens and farms. Infected plants release hundreds of thousands of spores that move on the breeze. But first confirm that what you have is late blight and not another tomato or potato disease.
County Cornell Cooperative Extension offices can offer a diagnosis or can submit a sample through the usablight.org web site. Reporting your find on usablight.org and submitting close-up and in-focus photos can sometimes be enough for us confirm a late blight infection.
Though we hate to say it, if the rainy conditions we’ve had so far this season continue, some of us will lose the battle against late blight. If that happens, you can find some suggestions for how to prevent your garden from being a source of infection for the whole neighborhood in the video What to Do if You Find Late Blight in Your Garden.
Good luck! And here’s hoping late blight doesn’t find you this season.
Lesions on leaves, stems, and fruit — it’s late blight in full bloom.
July 11, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week all over the U.S.
It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week — now. Pay it heed. Invasive species, it turns out, are a huge deal in the US, in New York. Everywhere, in fact.
Coping with invasive insects, pathogens and the like have cost, in the US as a whole, upward of … OK, I’m hedging already. Is it $40 billion a year? $120 billion, maybe? The estimates vary widely.
What about global losses? Ahhhhh. Nailing those, especially vital ecosystem-regulating services, is where “difficult” morphs into “impossible,” for now and perhaps forever. It’s tricky, measuring something when it’s gone.
So what about the price here in New York? Unknown, though not for lack of trying.
Example: My admittedly quick-and-dirty search uncovered a 2005 report which noted that costs for eradicating Asian Long-horned beetle from New York City and Long Island had ranged between $13 and $40 million.
Killer beetle has distinctive markings. See something? Say something. Photo credit Kyle Ramirez.
Likewise in of 2005, New York spent about a half million dollars to control sea lampreys in lakes Ontario and Erie — with no end in sight.
More recently, in 2016, I learned that oak wilt — first discovered In New York in 2008 — has cost $500 grand to control. Some midwestern states spend over $1 million a year to control it. Pretty pricey if you ask me.
What helped here? Partly it’s the luck of the draw — oak wilt arrived decades ago, making inroads throughout the Midwest slowly but relentlessly. It can take time to recognize the true nature of a pathogen — or most any invasive pest. Then it’s a catch-up game to stay on top of it. If you can.
On the loose all over the Midwest — and now here. Photo courtesy Iowa State Plant Disease Clinic.
New York saw what had happened elsewhere and has aggressively surveyed (good IPM!) and eradicated infestations quickly while still small. But that $500 grand price tag? Yow.
Still, the economic costs of losing every (yes, every) oak would far greater.
Yet to come — what to if you find Asian long-horned beetle, oak wilt, and the like.
June 19, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on It’s Pollinator Week. Read All About It.
It’s summer; the goldenrods will be blooming soon, with bumble bees buzzing around them. Photo courtesy David Cappaert.
When we think about bees, we mostly think about honeybees … a European native brought here by the very first colonists. Now honeybees are struggling, hammered by a constellation of 20-plus diseases and parasites — not to mention a range of insecticides and fungicides.
About 450 species of wild bees also populate our fields and gardens. They have similar problems. And they’re losing habitat.
This is serious business: we depend on pollinators for at least one-third of our food supply. Altogether, these pollinators boost New York’s economy by $1.2 billion.
And consider all those other critters: flower flies and hover flies, wasps, butterflies and moths; even hummingbirds — they are legion, they work hard for their living; they help too.
NYSIPM funds educational projects like this. Photo courtesy Jen Stengle.
What to do? For starters, we can make all these helpers even more at home in our fields and gardens.
Indeed, it’s through bringing together everything IPM knows about host and pest biology and habitat; about pesticides and their EIQs; about habitat protection and biodiversity — these are the things we excel at, and these are what we’re putting into play now to find the answers we need.
Ah … answers. Such as?
Since protecting non-target organisms is core to IPM, we helped advise the governor’s Pollinator Task Force in crafting a Pollinator Protection Plan — itself informed by a national strategy to promote the health of all pollinators. And our flagship IPM Annual Conference highlighted an IPM problem-solution approach for the 100 participants: farmers, consultants, beekeepers (but of course), landscapers, researchers, policy makers, greenhouse growers, and more.
Check it out — not only because you care about your health and your food supply, but because you care about this beautiful world we live in.
June 7, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Invasives are pests! Learn more at our July IPM conference.
We tend to default to bugs — to insects — when we think about pests. But plant diseases and weeds are pests too. And all threaten our fields and farms, our forests and streams, our homes and workplaces.
Pests provide no end of challenges — especially pests that come from afar. Among IPM’s strengths? Researching and crafting powerful ways to cope with them.
Coming up soon, our “Invasive Species in New York: Where We Are and What We Can Do” conference, held just north of Albany at Siena College. The date? July 13, 2017. Join us!
April 25, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on The Monarchs Are Coming, Ready or Not.
Gorgeous in flight and gloriously colored, monarch butterflies are the glimmering icon of wild nature. As an endangered species, they’re also iconic of all we have to lose in a changing world.
And now it’s begun — the remaining monarchs’ first leg of an epic, multigenerational voyage from overwintering sites in Mexico. But are they too early?
Getting here takes food, and plenty of it. For monarchs streaming up the eastern flyway to summer in our gardens and wildlands, you want flowering plants that offer generous helpings of nectar, the butterfly equivalent of a protein shake with all the essential nutrients it needs. But you also need more: you need the one plant that protects monarchs from the animals that might eat them.
Swamp milkweed. Likes moisture in but tolerates sandy, dry soils and part shade. Fragrant and long-blooming. Its protective steroids are among the most potent any milkweed species has to offer. (Offers nectar, too.) Photo: Tom Potterfield, Flickr Creative Commons.
As for the nectar plants? All of us — farmers, gardeners, golf courses and park superintendents — can help, each in our own way, with plantings of nectar-rich plants that attract beneficial insects. And beneficial insects are one of the mainstays of good IPM.
But it’s milkweed alone with its protective toxins that the monarch butterfly lays its eggs on; that its caterpillars feed on. So of course, gardeners and golf-course or park superintendents will want to plant milkweed too. Many species are stately, short-lived perennials bearing fragrant flowers. (Farmers, you might — or not — have options for happily letting milkweed grow.)
Butterfly weed. It’s gorgeous, no getting around it. Tops out at two feet; does fine in droughty soils. Too bad this milkweed’s protective steroids tend to be in short supply. Photo: Beautifulcatava, Flickr Creative Commons.
Now … for that “too early?” part.
As we speak, monarchs seem to be moving north earlier than usual, supported by strong tailwinds. Yes, they’re finding some nectar sources — dandelions, for instance. (If you must mow now, mow high. Which you should do anyway if you practice good IPM.) But according to some reports (citizen scientists with Annenberg Learner’s Journey North and ecologist Chris Helzer’s Prairie Ecologist posts via The Nature Conservancy), monarchs seem to be looking for milkweed — and not finding it.
As of April 21, “Journey North” sightings have come in from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Ontario Canada … we’re surrounded!
Or if the butterflies find milkweed, it tends to be just a few inches high. Question is: can a six-inch-tall milkweed support six to eight larvae? Unknown.
A close look at the map and you know they’re on their way.
Good questions poised by a citizen scientist: can this milkweed plant grow fast enough to feed growing caterpillars?
Since scouting is another core tenet of IPM, be a good scout — and keep a sharp lookout for monarchs, milkweed, and monarch eggs. Three’s a charm!
April 12, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Earth Day. It’s Every Day. Especially for Farmers.
For farmers everywhere, but perhaps most of all for organic farmers, every day has to be Earth Day. And since what matters for farmers matters for us all, every day is Earth Day for you, me, everyone.
Take farmer Lou Lego. He earned an Excellence in IPM award earlier this year for his inspired, inventive work putting IPM into action at 100-acre Elderberry Farm and Restaurant, midway between Owasco and Skaneateles lakes in New York’s Finger Lakes Region.
Pigs on pasture cycle carbon by eating and fertilizing grasses which take up carbon dioxide and return it to the ground. Watch the video at Elderberry Farm’s Facebook page.
According to Lou, Earth Day means thinking about the future — think of it as the “every day is Earth Day” approach. One day he’s thinking about cover crops or providing for beneficial insects. On another, tillage practices — about rebuilding and nourishing the soil. Yet another, slowing or reversing wind erosion. All good IPM.
And always about slowing or reversing climate change.
Every year, Lou says (and he’s been at this a while), his soil is richer, better, healthier. Healthier soil means healthier crops. And while healthy crops can’t ensure freedom from every disease and insect pest, still — healthier soils and crops are among the IPM tactics Lou relies on, the better to cope with pests that seem bent on destruction.
For Lou, though, dealing with greenhouse gases such as atmospheric carbon — that’s the biggie.
Granted, on Elderberry Farm it’s the “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” approach. And it takes a village — no, it takes pretty much all of us — to pull off climate change. What about on Lou’s scale? Sure, healthier soils can help. Tilling right can help. The research is coming in and yes, sustainable agricultural practices (think IPM) have a role to play.
Tall cover crops and sunflowers bordered by trees provide habitat for beneficial insects and wild bees.
And growing trees helps. Elderberry Farm’s fields are bounded by hedgerows or orchards, trees whose leaves pull carbon out of the atmosphere. Much stays in twigs and branches, but even more gets stashed in their roots — and they keep it there for the life of the tree and beyond.
For Lou Lego — and for IPM too — short term, long term: every day is Earth Day.