Cornell outreach educators combat pests, support pollinators

Thanks to grant funding from the USDA, the New York State Integrated Pest Management (NYSIPM) program is developing new virtual courses to help schools implement plans to manage pests such as rodents, head lice, bed bugs or yellow jackets.

“This is an important new initiative. School-focused pest control courses and courses for administrators on implementing an integrated pest management program don’t exist in New York,” said Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, community IPM coordinator for NYSIPM, which is based in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

A spotted lanternfly in its fourth stage, just before becoming an adult.

The school pest-management courses are among 20 projects NYSIPM will be implementing, with support from a three-year, $764,991 grant from the USDA. The program will also oversee statewide monitoring for the invasive, grape-killing spotted lanternfly; test sustainable alternatives to pesticides to protect pollinators; develop enhanced digital outreach tools, including podcasts; and translate many of their educational resources into Spanish to reach more front-line workers.

“We have two big focuses: agriculture and community,” said Alejandro Calixto, director of NYSIPM. Within those categories, staff members work to minimize pest damage in fruits, field crops, ornamentals, livestock, schools, hospitals and impact on public health throughout New York state. “Our job as extension educators is to develop outreach programs to cope with all these beautiful critters, and to protect people and crops,” Calixto said.

Some of the projects NYSIPM will develop or continue, thanks to the USDA funding, include:

Tick control. Ticks are one of the biggest public health issues for residents of New York. They can spread diseases like Lyme, anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Each year New York has more confirmed cases of Lyme disease than any other state, and the number of reported tick-borne disease cases more than doubled between 2004 and 2016, according to the New York State Department of Health.

NYSIPM has created infographics, videos and informational fliers to help New Yorkers understand how to protect themselves from ticks, and has posted the information online at New York state funding also supports this tick-management work.

Pollinator health. Pollinator health is critically important to New York’s food supply and agricultural economy. During the 2016-17 season, when New York state formally began tracking annual honeybee colony losses, 51% of bee populations were lost. With collaboration among state agencies, growers, CALS and NYSIPM, the percentage of colony loss had decreased, to 38% by 2019. NYSIPM educators continue working to understand how to protect crops from devastating pests while also protecting beneficial pollinators.

NYSIPM staff members have created test habitats to explore the safety and efficacy of various pesticides and their effects on pollinator colony health. They’ll also develop a new pesticide applicator course focused on protecting bees, which will be offered to agricultural producers applying for licenses to spray pesticides. The course is a partnership with the Pesticide Safety Education Program.

NYSIPM and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) work together on many projects, including pollinator health, said Scott Menrath, director of the Bureau of Pesticides Management for DEC.

Cornell impacting New York State

“The work done by NYSIPM is clearly helping protect New Yorkers, not only from a wide array of pests, but also from potentially unnecessary use of and exposure to pesticides,” Menrath said. “The principles of IPM focus on managing pests using a variety of methods that promote long-term suppression or prevention of pests and minimize impacts on human health both from pests and pesticides.”

Spotted lanternfly monitoring. The invasive spotted lanternfly is of huge concern for New York growers, especially those in the state’s $6 billion grape industry. The pest was first detected in the U.S. in Pennsylvania in 2014 and devastated infested vineyards there. The bug was first discovered in New York on Staten Island in August 2020.

NYSIPM staff are working directly with agricultural workers to monitor for the pests and to educate about effective early removal strategies to minimize pesticide application while preserving crops.

“IPM has been an integral partner in many of our programs here in New York state,” said Chris Logue, director for the Division of Plant Industry at the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets. “Most recently, IPM staff have been key players in our outreach efforts on spotted lanternfly and have helped make connections with local governments and grower groups. This is critical to our work in controlling the spread of spotted lanternfly and protecting our most vulnerable and economically important crops.”

Krisy Gashler is a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.