Maria Gorgo-Gourovitch is the IPM and water quality Extension educator in Penn State’s Extension program. Photo courtesy of Maria Gorgo-Gourovitch

by Enrico Villamaino

Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) program is hosting a new eight-part online workshop. The series, “Spray Safe, Spray Well: Reducing Pesticide Use Risks for Organic and Beginning Vegetable Farmers,” focuses on the basics of when and how to use OMRI-listed pesticides.

The initiative is geared toward farmers who are less versed in the use of pesticides. CCE’s goal in implementing improved pesticide application programs and equipment is to help growers spray more safely and effectively while spraying less overall. The webinars are available in both English and Spanish.

The first installment of the program, “An Introduction to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for Vegetable Growers,” was presented by Maria Gorgo-Gourovitch, food safety, IPM and water quality Extension educator in Penn State’s Extension program, and Dr. Alejandro Calixto, director of New York State IPM.

Gorgo-Gourovitch, who was born in Argentina, highlighted the importance of hosting bilingual seminars. “Every year we have more and more growers who speak only Spanish or mostly Spanish all over the country. We are trying to reach farmers and producers in the Spanish-speaking community, to better help them become successful growers. A language barrier should not be a barrier to success,” she said.

She emphasized two points she felt were important for newer growers to understand about the development of safe pest management in cultivation: bioaccumulation and biomagnification. Bioaccumulation is the buildup of toxic chemicals in an organism that takes place if the rate of intake exceeds the rate of excretion. Biomagnification describes the concentration of toxins in an organism that is higher on the food chain as a result of its ingesting other plants or animals existing lower on the food chain in which the toxins are more widely dispersed. IPM was developed in part to address bioaccumulation and biomagnification.

IPM is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common sense practices. IPM programs use up to date and comprehensive information on the lifecycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. Gorgo-Gourovitch elaborated, “By using IPM, we can reduce the amount of chemicals needlessly introduced to our crops and minimize the health risks to consumers. When we talk about pest control, we have to understand just what pests are, because there’s a lot of confusion about it. A lot of people think that a pest is just an insect, but a pest is any organism that is out of place and spreads disease to people and plants. This can be pathogens, weeds, nematodes, insects, spiders, rodents, even deer.”

She said knowing just what pest is causing a problem is important in implementing responsible IPM. “You don’t want to just start spraying. You don’t want to use an insecticide when you need an herbicide. You don’t want to expose your plants to a fungicide when a rodenticide is called for,” she stated. “If we use pesticides constantly and incorrectly, certain pests may develop more of a resistance to them, and that will reduce the effectiveness of those pesticides in the future.”

Calixto has worked for years implementing IPM programs dealing with invasive species in organic vegetable crops. “Organic farming improves the wellbeing of agricultural systems,” he said. “The success of organic agriculture depends on adequate agronomic practices including the adoption of integrated and sustainable pest management.” He stressed that when it comes to pests, prevention is always preferable to intervention. “Intervention leaves us open to greater toxicity risks.”

Calixto pointed to a common local pest to illustrate how prevention is favored over intervention. “The striped cucumber beetle is especially problematic in northern New York. They feed on the crop leaves of cucurbit plants like cucumbers, squash, marrows and pumpkins.” These beetles cause a great deal of damage to the plant stem, causing premature wilting, often killing the plant. According to Calixto, switching to a crop more resistant to the pest can help to avert the issue in the first place. “Although this may not always be an option, as not all crops are equally salable at the marketplace.”

He added that planting “trap crops,” expendable cucurbit plants forming a protective perimeter around the main crop, gives the beetles something to feed on and keeps them away from the main crop. Finally, using a network of covers can protect seedlings by keeping the beetles off them. “Each of these options demonstrates smart IPM. None of these measures requires using any chemicals that risk the beetles building up a resistance to pesticides or exposes consumers eating the crops to any toxins.”

To register for further installments of the webinar series visit