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NYS IPM 2001
Excellence-in-IPM Award Winners:
Deborah Sweeton

Deborah Sweeton
Deborah Sweeton (right) is presented the
Excellence-in-IPM Award by Jana Lamboy, NYS
IPM Ornamentals Coordinator.

Fourteen years ago, greenhouse owner Deborah Sweeton listened to a talk about integrated pest management and was intrigued by the thought process. "I started doing IPM right away," said Sweeton, president of Techni-Growers Greenhouses Inc., in Warwick, NY. "We've made a conscious decision in our retail operation to not spray in the spring, and that's a philosophy we've had for eight years." It's also a philosophy that the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program will recognize on January 23 when Sweeton receives an "Excellence in IPM Award" for her leadership in environmentally sound practices.

In addition to running a wholesale operation, Sweeton and her husband own a retail store known as "The General's Garden." They use IPM in 60,000 square feet of greenhouses, where they produce poinsettias, hundreds of annuals, and 500 types of perennials. But their claim to fame is how they've learned to release beneficial predators in a third of their greenhouses to combat a tiny insect pest known as western flower thrips. Thrips can disfigure plants and even kill them by transmitting impatiens necrotic spot virus.

Sweeton grew up believing that to manage thrips, they had to be sprayed - sometimes once a week. Six years ago she connected with Christine Casey, an Extension Educator with the New York State IPM Program who wanted to use a tiny mite called Neoseiulus cucumeris to eat the developing thrips. Within two years they'd refined their method. They set out bags of the mite predator every 25 feet in the retail greenhouse and found that thrips populations dwindled to almost nothing.

"I've done predatory releases every year since," said Sweeton. "I had a wonderful association with Cooperative Extension, so I could be as successful as possible." Sweeton worked closely with both Cooperative Extension's Orange County IPM Program and NYS IPM staff. She said, "Last year I started doing releases on my own with great success. It's perfect for me because I don't have to spray that much. I like to think of myself as predator-friendly." Sweeton now releases predators in her production greenhouses.

Gary Couch, IPM Extension Educator, has worked with Sweeton for three years on bringing the predators into her production houses. "She's been a leader in IPM because she had the personal motivation going into it," he said. "Her emphasis in the business isn't strictly the bottom line; it's also on quality of life and family issues."

Jana Lamboy, plant pathologist and ornamentals coordinator for the NYS IPM Program, collaborated with Sweeton on a project to reduce root rot in poinsettias. "Deborah has developed a preventive strategy that works," said Lamboy. "She's willing to figure out how to use biological products to avoid pesticide use." Sweeton describes her methods as trying to be vigilant and practicing good sanitation. "It's hard here," she admits. "I have dirt floors and the ever-present problem of weeds and pythium root rot."

Greenhouse IPM is hardly a bed of roses. Sweeton has tried experiments with another natural predator that were unsuccessful. But she keeps a positive attitude. Two years ago her success with biological control was featured in GMPro, a national trade publication. "I'm not doing IPM because somebody asked me," said Sweeton. "I'm doing it because I want to do it; I know I'm doing the best job I can."

Sweeton does the best she can at giving back, too. She has promoted IPM principles as a member of the board of directors of the Ohio Florists Association, where she helped design their Short Course curriculum. She is also a member of the Cornell Greenhouse and Controlled Environment Agriculture Advisory Board, the Cornell Cooperative Extension's Greenhouse Program Work Team, and the Agricultural and Food Systems Program Council.

Lamboy describes Sweeton as "a good spokesperson for greenhouse IPM. She is willing to be an advocate to other industry leaders, who listen to her." Said Lamboy, "Deborah is an example of a smart, creative, strong woman of character who is willing to stand up for what she believes in."
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. Sweeton receives her award during the Hudson Valley Bedding Plant School at the Holiday Inn in Fishkill.