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Andy Muza

Seeing through a grower's eyes: Andy Muza receives Excellence in IPM Award

by Mary Woodsen

The grape berry moth looks harmless enough--but in fact, it is one of the most serious grape pests in New York and Pennsylvania. A single larva can ruin as many as a dozen grapes and leave the fruit vulnerable to rot and flies. They're hard to clear out of a vineyard, but they've met their match in Andy Muza, an extension educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension of Erie County.

Muza's tenacious use of IPM techniques to reduce grape berry moth harm is one of the reasons he has been awarded an Excellence in IPM award by the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program. IPM seeks least-toxic solutions to pest problems.

Muza is known for his congeniality at "coffeepot meetings," held at a different vineyard each month. "We bring the coffee and donuts and they bring the questions," he says, noting it gives growers the chance to discuss problems that they share across state lines.

One of the big questions: what to do about grape berry moth. The growers in Muza's area grow juice grapes. Their profit margin is small. And their vineyards are often ringed by woodlots where these small brown moths love to hide. We're spraying, growers told Muza, and it's not helping. The moths were becoming resistant to pesticides.

Muza and research collaborators at Penn State and Cornell University came up with a layered strategy to combat the moth. Pheromones to disrupt mating. A growth regulator to prevent the larvae from turning into adult moths. And a helpful wasp that stings the moth eggs and lays its own eggs inside them.

"We wanted to integrate alternative and conventional strategies," says Muza. It worked. "Every time we layered another control measure on, our injury levels dropped." Muza notes that the protocol is still a work in progress.

Now many growers in the region have stopped spraying for the moth altogether, or only spray a small area of the vineyard at high risk, says Tom Davenport, director of viticulture for the National Grape Cooperative. "Andy has been a strong advocate of the risk assessment and scouting practices that have led to this reduction of sprays," he says.

This three-part approach is an example of how devising new IPM tactics can take a lot of patience. Sometimes it takes years to develop just one part of a solution. But Muza says the grape growing community is perfect for this sort of work, because the growers and researchers are committed to helping each other.

"Andy's sense of humor and down to earth style creates an atmosphere where growers feel comfortable asking questions," says Paul Bencal, a grower in Niagara County. "His knowledge of vineyard operations gives him the ability to see things through a grower's eye and help them develop IPM practices that fit with their vineyard operations."

Part of the reason growers trust Andy is that he's on the ground with them, says Tim Weigle, a NYS grape IPM educator. "During the growing season, Andy's always out in the field checking traps or just scouting to catch pests early on," he says. "He shows growers how to manage their vineyards by setting a good example."

"If you know where your hotspots are and how to identify the pests," Muza says, "then you're a better vineyard manager and you really end up saving money in the long run."

Muza will receive the award on March 26, 2008 at the Lake Erie Grape Growers' Conference at Fredonia State University in Fredonia, NY.