IPM in peril
Budget gap threatened long-standing New York IPM program.
For nearly 40 years, integrated pest management has been the hallmark of progressive thinking in fruit production and agriculture generally. If you used IPM, you were on the cutting edge.
So imagine how surprised New York growers were when state funding for the New York IPM program was slashed in half two years ago and threatened with extinction this year. Notices went out in January telling faculty at Cornell University that the IPM program would end March 31 and giving those affected the required six-month notice that their jobs could end in July.
In the end, the legislature plugged the $9 billion New York budget gap while restoring some IPM funding, and the remains of the program are secure for the next year. Some state funding was restored because of an outbreak of bedbugs in New York City—where constituents reminded politicians they didn’t want those bugs and they wanted controls that wouldn’t endanger their health.
They joined other stakeholders in protesting the cuts to IPM.
Still, Curt Petzoldt, an assistant director of the New York IPM program and a vegetable IPM specialist himself, is not sure about the future of IPM.
“The knowledge base in IPM is critical,” he said. “That set of IPM principles has to remain. But IPM is not a product, and it’s hard to sell.
“When IPM began, the emphasis was to provide broader pest control methods than just pesticides. But the winds have shifted. People are now looking for the elimination of pesticides. So more federal money is going toward sustainable agriculture and organic production.”
Will IPM find itself a part of these programs rather than a program itself? That question appears open for discussion.
Petzoldt, in an interview with Good Fruit Grower, described the evolution of IPM in New York, which began with federal funding for apples in 1973, the year after formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The program was a direct result of the agency’s formation, but was also an indirect result of public reaction in the aftermath of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, a decade earlier.
The search began for softer pesticides, beneficial insects, predator and prey interactions, targeted applications that killed pests without killing predators and flaring mites, and practices that had fewer negative environmental impacts. Today, the Cornell “worksheet” outlining IPM practices for apples covers six pages on planting systems; management of soils, crops, and groundcover; control of insects, diseases, and vertebrate pests; harvest and storage practices; spray methods and management; and other topics.
There are dozens of fact sheets and IPM materials available on several Web sites, and the New York IPM program is the driving force behind the statewide agricultural weather network.
In New York, the IPM program grew as federal funding increased. Vegetable IPM was added in 1975. State funding began
in about 1985 when new programs were added in field crops, livestock, and ornamentals.
“In the middle 1990s, the USDA began to think more broadly about the application of IPM principles,” Petzoldt said. New York received federal funds to start a program called Community IPM, where integrated pest management practices were applied in landscapes, schools, golf courses, and homes. One Long Island legislator, a firm believer in the program, backed its state funding at $400,000 a year.
Two years ago, that legislative support for community IPM was lost, and agricultural IPM disappeared as well from the governor’s budget request to the legislature, where it had been a line item. The legislature cut support by 50 percent and the community IPM program completely. This year, community IPM came back, at $200,000, thanks in part to the bedbugs and in part to a new state law prohibiting use of pesticides on school grounds.
When the IPM program was fully staffed two years ago, about 14 people were supported by $1 million a year from the state and $170,000 from the federal government for the agricultural program, Petzoldt said. And the state added $400,000 for community IPM. The new funding level is $500,000 from the state for agricultural IPM, $200,000 for community IPM, and federal funding is higher, at $275,000.
The IPM program also gained some additional state funding last year by producing 13 manuals on organic production, paid for under contract.
Still, about five full-time-equivalent employees are gone. Some retired, some were laid off, some saw the writing on the wall and found other jobs. Petzoldt himself went from full to half time, accompanied by a phased retirement in 2013. Fruit IPM specialist Tim Weigle remains full time. Fruit IPM coordinator and plant pathologist Juliet Caroll’s IPM funding was cut by half, and she found other work at Cornell to stay fully employed. Deborah Breth remains an Extension employee, but without IPM obligations or funding.
“We lost key individuals to retirement and layoffs, and some staff left for other positions during the past year,” Petzoldt wrote in an open letter April 11. “This year’s funding is unlikely to allow for hiring to replace them, so responsibilities within the NYS IPM Program will undergo some shifts. There will need to be some redistribution of programming to accommodate the coming year’s funding changes.
“Thus, with the budget completed, we are currently making plans to restructure.
“Although it is unlikely that this is the end of our IPM funding challenge, we do know that the program is safe until the next state budget process.”