Pests are a pain, so West Virginia University Extension is reaching out to growers and gardeners around the state about the dangers of pesticides and how to incorporate safe alternatives — such as barriers, insect traps, and introducing predatory insects that feed on pests.
Carlos Quesada serves as the statewide WVU Extension entomologist and the pesticide safety education coordinator. His research focuses on chemical and biological approaches to insect pest management. Now, through an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program, Quesada and WVU Extension will educate West Virginians about integrated pest management and pesticide safety.
IPM focuses on pest prevention as opposed to the regular use of pesticides.
“IPM uses different techniques, including non-chemical control and chemical control which is the use of insecticides or other types of pesticides,” Quesada said. “And that helps the growers to increase their productivity but also to be environmentally friendly by using different techniques.”
Programs on IPM
For the next two years, he will conduct programming on IPM around the state. All 55 counties in West Virginia have a WVU Extension office, which gives him and his colleagues the ability to reach all farming and growing communities.
Quesada will present topics about IPM pesticide safety to fruit and vegetable growers and Master Gardeners, as well as to commercial and private pesticide applicators. He also intends to increase outreach to Spanish-speaking growers and agricultural workers.
Quesada said that, while pesticide itself isn’t inherently bad, the problem often lies with its application.
“When people follow the label directions, pesticides might be harmless,” he said. “However, when they don’t, they might be harmful. There are many pesticides that are highly toxic to fish, for example. We are covering all these IPM techniques and also things like evaluation and monitoring on these programs.”
Quesada, also an assistant professor at the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design, explained that pesticides were popular in the 1990s and used as a preventative control. Today, many farmers still apply the treatment whether a pest is there or not.
“It’s because they know from experience what time of year that pest might show up,” he said. “Now, we’re trying to teach growers to monitor pests, to evaluate the density of pests, and based on those evaluations. They can decide whether to apply that pesticide. It should be the last resort.”
When it comes to outreach, each audience is different. Quesada said Master Gardeners, who have completed an extensive training course through WVU Extension, are often eager and receptive learners. Growers, on the other hand, maybe more reluctant to adapt to new techniques given their financial investment in traditional pesticide use, but will often embrace a new solution if it’s financially worthwhile to do so.
Giving growers more options
He acknowledges that, sometimes, growers have few options. “There are some insects that, if you have an outbreak, the only solution is a pesticide. However, we can go to that grower and say, ‘For next year, you can make other approaches like a crop rotation.’”
Crop rotation is a way to stop a pest’s life cycle by planting a different crop for two or three years. Once the pest population has been reduced, a grower can return to the original crop.
“Then, in that way, you’ve reduced that population without applying a pesticide,” he said, adding that some insects can be prevented with barriers like row covers, a type of mechanical control.
While Quesada is a researcher by trade, his role with the WVU Extension is about transmitting information in the most effective way possible.
“It does no good if we, as scientists, produce and publish a fancy paper that people cannot even understand,” he said. “It’s better to put it in a way that everybody can understand. So that’s what Extension does. It’s kind of like a bridge between research and the growers so they can improve their crop production. And so they can also improve their life.”
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