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NYS IPM 2001
Excellence-in-IPM Award Winners:
John Gibbons

Gibbons Helps Growers, Wins IPM Award

John Gibbons
John Gibbons checks a weather station in
western NY (no ants).

Ants, onions, and lightning help to make work interesting for John Gibbons, program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County. They’re also part of the reason that Gibbons will receive an "Excellence in IPM Award" from the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program on February 13 at the NYS Vegetable Conference in Liverpool.

Gibbons is the only recipient of an IPM award known to wear at least five distinct hats within the Cooperative Extension system. He’s part of a four-county vegetable program, helping growers manage crops and pests plus contributing to a newsletter known as the Weekly Vegetable Update. Once a week Gibbons troubleshoots computer systems for Extension Associations in two counties.

As part of the NYS IPM Program, Gibbons checks sweet-corn traps to determine when insect pests are arriving and how long they’re staying. He also scouts IPM vegetable demonstration plots, looking for insects, diseases, and other problems.

In addition to these jobs, Gibbons spends a large portion of his time in Geneva at the Experiment Station, masterminding the inner workings of the Northeast Weather Association’s website. Known as NEWA, this internet-based system benefits subscribers by providing local forecasts, disease predictions, and pest information for onions, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, grapes, apples, and field crops.

According to Curt Petzoldt, assistant director of the NYS IPM Program and co-creator of NEWA, Gibbons has "constantly improved the operation of the system." Said Petzoldt, "We started out when the internet was just forming and with John’s help, have evolved along with it."

Extension Educator Carol MacNeil describes Gibbons as "a quiet guy who’s always thinking–trying to learn more and do a better job." Said MacNeil, "John’s a pioneer who brings weather data collection and disease forecasting to the farm level. He encourages the adoption of IPM techniques because of his interest in healthy crops, prosperous growers, well-managed pests, and well-monitored weather."

For many of the past 10 years, John has driven 5,000 miles annually, from western NY to Albany, scouting growers’ crops and regularly checking 40 weather instruments that are networked to NEWA. That’s where the ants and lightning come in.

"Probably better than 50 percent of our weather systems have been taken out by lightning," said Gibbons. "A lot of times I can fix them in the field. Now we use better surge protection and wireless phone jacks, and someday we’ll try cellular phones."

More than once, Gibbons has opened a weather station box and discovered an ant nest inside. He’s continually figuring out ways to improve the system so growers can get the information they need.

One of those growers is Ken Datthyn, owner of K. S. Datthyn Farms in Sodus, who’s been growing onions for 35 years and has a weather instrument on his property. Last summer Gibbons set up a computer for Datthyn, who now gets online in the morning and taps into NEWA, where he downloads a local weather forecast, weather history, and charts for onion diseases, such as Botrytis leaf spot and downy mildew.

"At first I didn’t want to get into it," admits Datthyn, "but the computer helps me decide whether to put on a protective spray or to wait a day. Sometimes you can stretch it out, depending on your blood pressure." With help from Gibbons, Datthyn brought together different aspects of an IPM program–scouting for insects and diseases, rotating onions with soybeans, and computer forecasting. Said Datthyn, "If you ask John for a little help, you get it."

Gibbons earned two A.A.S. degrees from the Finger Lakes Community College–one in ornamental horticulture and landscape development (1983) and the other in natural resources conservation (1978). He received the "Finger Lakes Community College Outstanding Achievement Award in Horticulture" in 1999.

The Excellence in IPM Award is given by the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program to individuals and organizations making outstanding contributions in the field of IPM.

Written by Carrie Koplinka-Loehr, IPM Staff Writer