Tree fruit farmers using new technology to reduce or eliminate pesticide use.
Science is quite amazing. Every single day science changes the world we live in; it makes our world better and our future brighter. This is no exception for science in agriculture. Farmers are working everyday with scientists to become more efficient and taking steps to care for the land and water we need to survive. This includes investing less in crop protectants and more on scientific methods that are effective in protecting their assets.
One of these great technologies is called mating disruption. Long Island farmers are incorporating insect pheromones (a type of hormone) to prevent insect mating, as an alternative to insecticides for preventing damage in fruit orchards.These pheromones are introduced by wrapping a tie around trees evenly dispersed throughout the orchard.
The insect-specific pheromone dispensers are placed in orchards and prevent serious pests, such as oriental fruit moth and peachtree borers, from breeding, ultimately reducing damage to fruit and fruit trees. The technology has become very popular in the last few years thanks to efforts by Dr. Faruque Zaman, Associate CCE Entomologist, and the Agriculture Stewardship Program of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE).
Approximately 75% of the fruit tree acreage on Long Island now participates in using this technology, more than double since 2013, and growers appear to be very satisfied with the outcome. Long Island is home to 15 fruit tree growers, including apples, peach, pear, plum and cherry, with approximately 360 acres in cultivation. Individual farms can range in size from 4 acres to 60 acres. Most farms involved in the mating disruption program were able to reduce pesticide applications from 4 - 7 applications to as low as 0 - 2 applications per season. They are also using products considered by the EPA to be ‘reduced-risk’, which help protect beneficial natural enemies of pests.
According to Dan Gilrein, CCE’s Entomologist, mating disruption is an effective method of pest management if used thoughtfully. He also explains that there is a learning curve with these new technologies – they don’t work the same way as older methods, are not universally suited for all situations (they don’t work on orchards smaller than around 5 acres), have certain pitfalls growers need to learn, and take a bit of faith. Gilrein adds, “We may see other 'minor' pests emerge when broad-spectrum insecticides are no longer used, so it is vital we have a full support system in place to anticipate and address these as they arise.” The Stewardship Program staffer, Laurie McBride, has been key in regularly monitoring for these pests, as well as providing the weekly ‘quality assurance’ that mating disruption is working as intended.
This new program is supported by a grant provided by the USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant program through NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.