Back To The Future

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Back To The Future

For 25 years, the Society of American Florists’ (SAF) Pest Management Conference has been helping growers protect their plants and profits. This was the first year Greenhouse Grower was a partner in the event, held Feb. 19-21 in San Jose, Calif., where it all began.

This conference focused on pest control began in the early 1980s, when entomologists in floriculture and other segments of agriculture were working together to address leaf miners, a pest that was ravaging chrysanthemums and other crops. Dr. Michael Parrella of the University of California (UC), Davis, enlisted SAF’s support for a set of conferences in California and Florida.

The conferences were so successful in bringing researchers together to address the problem and relay the information to growers that SAF and Parrella launched a new annual conference just for our industry in 1985 in San Jose. The program has since expanded to include diseases, bringing floriculture’s leading entomologists and pathologists together with growers and allied industry trade representatives to share best practices for keeping pestilence at bay.

This year’s program was organized by James Bethke of UC Riverside, Scott Ludwig of Texas AgriLife Extension Service (Texas A&M Univeristy) and Cristi Palmer of the IR-4 Project at Rutgers University. She helps our industry secure chemical registrations for specialty crops. They did a great job in lining up speakers to cover a lot of crop protection territory in two days. Topics included:

- Increasing the efficacy of crop protection chemicals.

- Establishing beneficial insect populations with banker plants.

- Understanding control strategies in the neonicotinoid family of chemicals.

- Rotation strategies for resistance management in insects and diseases.

- Preventing invasive pests and diseases from becoming established.

- Understanding root rots.

- Diagnosing the most common foliar diseases.

- Dealing with viruses.

- Keeping recirculated irrigation water pathogen free.

- Dealing with rhodococcus, a tumor-causing disease ravaging perennial operations in the Northwest.

- Keeping weeds under control.

- Strengthening workforce education when language is a barrier.

The resounding theme in case study after case study is how much more effective we are as an industry when regulators, researchers, industry advocates and growers work together to tackle pest problems. The most recent success story revolves around the whitefly task force to address the resistant Q-Biotype. By creating a network where grower could report these whiteflies without fear of quarantine, populations were monitored throughout the country and management protocols were developed and shared throughout the industry.

Northern California Growers On Tour

A bus load of Pest Management Conference attendees took advantage of the opportunity to see a cross section of California growing operations during the half-day preconference tour on Wednesday, Feb. 19. Stops include plug grower Headstart Nursery in Gilroy and Cheng Nursery and Cal Color in Morgan Hill.

Founded 20 years ago as a Cal Poly State University student’s senior project, Headstart Nursery has grown into one of the nation’s largest vegetable transplant and ornamental plug and liner operations. President Steve Costa and his brother Randy built the business by responding to customers’ requests. “Everything we have ever added has been through a request,” Randy says. “That’s how we ended up with 5,000 line items.”
Tour participants  felt they were transported back in time at Cheng’s Nursery, a traditional cut chrysanthemum family operation. Kenny Cheng is a one-man show propagating, planting and harvesting cut mums by hand with all the pleasures of pulling black cloth to force varieties into flower. In addition to standard and pompom mums, alternative varieties mixed in include statice, stock and sunflowers.

On the finished garden plant side, Cal Color Growers LLC offers the full spectrum of annual bedding plants, perennials, vegetables and herbs. The business was founded in 1992 by Dave and Michele Vincent. Prior to that Dave was vice president of operations for Color Spot . He says the biggest challenge has been providing high quality and service at lower prices. “You need one foot in with some box store to get to this size,” he explains. “Otherwise, it’s hard to stay at this level and sustain it.”

For the past two poinsettia seasons, Q-Biotype has not resurfaced. While the Q-Biotype was a threat in itself, the bigger threat was the potential to make the more prevalent B-Biotypes resistant by over spraying chemicals. This same approach is being used to address chili thrips in the South, which is a big problem in landscapes. The fear is the potential for Western Flower Thrips to become resistant.

Strength In Alliances
Across universities, we are seeing more collaboration than ever before. Dr. John Erwin of the University of Minnesota explained how his colleagues at other universities are working together in alliances, and those alliances are collaborating together for a larger Floriculture Research Alliance under the Floriculture & Nursery Research Initiative (FNRI), which SAF and American Nursery & Landscape Association have been working with USDA on for about 20 years.

The alliance groups collaborating together include:

- Clemson University (Dr. Jim Faust) and North Carolina State University (Dr. John Dole and Dr. Brian Whipker)

- Young Plant Research Center headed by the University of Florida (Dr. Paul Fisher) and University of Minnesota (Erwin)

- Michigan State University’s floriculture program (Dr. Erik Runkle and Dr. Ryan Warner)

Their goals are to network, build an elite community and identity, working together on common issues and research priorities. The breeders and growers each research group works with span the nation, providing opportunities to conduct simultaneous research nationwide. In addition to becoming a magnet for FNRI funding, their work will provide high visibility for the initiative in the industry, which has not been present.

In California, Parrella is organizing a new Bedding Plant Alliance with the goal of reducing pesticide use by 30 percent in the next three years. The goal is not research but increasing grower adoption of best practices. Years ago, California had pest management alliances for specific cut flowers, like gerberas and roses. The alliance would include growers, regional representatives of the University of California, state entities including the Department of Pesticide Regulation, USDA, IR-4, companies that offer conventional and biological controls and other crop input segments.

Parrella sees funding coming from FNRI and taxes California collects on pesticides. With greenhouse and nursery crops representing $4 billion or 11 percent of agriculture in California, he feels the alliance should receive funding from the state through the competitive grants process.

As associate dean in the college of agriculture at UC, Davis, Parrella has been involved in Area Wide Integrated Pest Management programs (AW-IPM) to eradicate and reduce invasive pest populations, like Light Brown Apple Moth and Sudden Oak Death. One big project is developing Lucid software to help USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) inspectors identify pests quickly through molecular technology. Molecular data is input into a data base for 91 known species of thrips in the United States, their country of origin and crops they impact.

In the past, an inspector needed to capture an adult female to make the identification. With the molecular key, DNA is extracted and can be identified for male and larval stages, too. “There’s a rapid identification in 24 hours or less,” Parrella says. “We will be able to reduce crop losses and anticipate future thrips problems. This will be especially valuable with the relaxation of Quarantine-37 standards as world trade expands. We expect APHIS to adopt this widely.”

Plans are in the works for the 2010 conference, which will be held in Orlando, Fla. Stay tuned for details as the date draws closer.

 

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com

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