New Pest-Management Methods Promote Greenhouse Safety

Published 06.28.2001


Fewer pesticides are being sprayed at Pennsylvania College of Technology's greenhouses, but that doesn't mean insect pests are devouring flowers and plants with impunity.

A new approach to pest control one that relies more on predator insects than chemical-pesticide applications is creating a safer environment for students and the public alike at the Earth Science Center campus near Allenwood, where Penn College's School of Natural Resources Management is based.

Since March 2000, the College has participated in the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management program: a collaboration between the state Department of Agriculture and The Pennsylvania State University. The goal is to provide safe yet effective and profitable pest-control alternatives.

Integrated pest management relies upon a number of tactics to combat plant pests, including the use of beneficial insect predators and parasites; barriers, traps and trap crops; rotations, cultivation and sanitation; and less toxic, specifically targeted pesticides.

Coordinators carefully"scout" pest and predator populations to determine how serious an infestation problem is before determining a course of action. Conventional pest-control regimens rely more upon routine chemical applications, with little or no regard for the scope of the infestation.

"Our approach to disease and pest management has changed radically," said Lana G. Baker, greenhouse attendant at the Earth Science Center. "Our change to using IPM techniques has resulted in a drastic drop in our pesticide use. We have a safer, more accessible facility for students."

"As an educational institution, we have a responsibility to our students, their employers and the community," added Mary A. Sullivan, assistant dean of the School of Natural Resources Management. "The use of IPM techniques allows us to offer new advances in pest control, thereby increasing student knowledge and employer satisfaction while creating an environmentally friendly alternative within the community at large."

Another advantage of IPM is that it saves time, because there are fewer instances in which personnel must don hot, cumbersome protective suits and masks for spraying, and less time is devoted to cleaning the spray equipment.

Also, the greenhouses are available to students and the public more often now, Baker noted, because access rarely has to be restricted with the types of controls used in IPM systems. With traditional pesticide spraying, entry often is prohibited for many hours afterward. In addition, fewer pesticides are stored on-site with IPM, and there is less need to dispose of unused chemicals, which often have short shelf lives.

"Student safety has been one of the many positive results of our IPM program," Baker said. "Lower, or no, restrictions have made our labs more accessible."

Baker received advice in the various IPM techniques from Cathy Thomas, a greenhouse IPM specialist for the state Department of Agriculture who provides consulting services to greenhouse growers under a grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Thomas visited the greenhouses recently with Penn State faculty and representatives from the Department of Agriculture and the EPA. The group saw firsthand how the program is working at the Earth Science Center, where landscape specimens in the common areas also receive the IPM treatment.