Excellence among insects earns award for pest-management innovator
by Mary Woodsen
Carol Glenister got her big idea back in 1985 while working as an “IPM scout,” monitoring farm fields for pests. Her data provided the information farmers needed to know if they should worry about corn borers, say, or armyworms. But Glenister also noted how many predatory insects were in the fields, since they help control pests. A few farmers became intrigued with the idea of buying these “natural enemies” to augment the ones in the field—only most “biocontrol” suppliers were on the West Coast.
So shouldn’t someone close to home be rearing these bugs? Out of that thought, Glenister’s IPM Labs was born. Located in Locke, NY, IPM Labs produces millions of beneficial organisms each week during the growing season—supplying more than 50 species of insects, mites, and nematodes altogether.
Now for her tireless work in promoting IPM across New York and North America, Glenister has earned an Excellence in IPM award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management (NYS IPM) Program at Cornell University. Integrated pest management seeks least-toxic ways of dealing with pests.
Glenister’s biocontrols are regionally adapted, notes Keith Waldron, NYS IPM’s coordinator for livestock and field crops. “Carol’s collaboration with Cornell University’s Veterinary Entomology Program has brought us better ways to use parasitoids and other natural enemies to deal with flies in dairy and poultry farms,” says Waldron. Waldron notes that flies don’t become resistant to a parasitoid like they can to a pesticide, so more farmers are relying on these biocontrols.
Just as meeting growers’ needs was the inspiration for IPM Labs, so their needs and observations are the inspiration for the new techniques Glenister develops. In fact, growers are research partners in most projects. Case in point: the new “Guardian Plant” system for greenhouses.
“Guardian plants not only support colonies of natural enemies, but they pull pests from surrounding plants,” Glenister explains. Since a tiny insect called “thrips” are among the worst pests in greenhouses, she began with marigolds that attract thrips away from other crops while supporting a thrips predator called the “minute pirate bug.” While doing that research, Glenister and her collaborators noticed that lantana, often grown as an annual, attracted whiteflies, another common pest, away from crops.
“Not only that, but lantana supported the reproduction of Encarsia, a whitefly parasite,” Glenister says. “Encarsia is almost invisible, but it’s easy to spot on a lantana plant. As research partners, growers tell us which plants the pests concentrate on. And they keep the plants healthy, since both pests and beneficials abandon wilted guardian plants.”
Greenhouse growers have good reason to be observant. Greenhouses are tough places for coping with pests. Wholesalers have hundreds of thousands of plants all together at exactly the right conditions for pests to flourish. Retailers always have people coming through the greenhouse, letting pests in from outside, and they’re carefully restricted in what they can spray.
“Carol is always on the lookout for new tactics that work under taxing conditions,” says Betsy Lamb, who coordinates outreach and research in ornamental crops for NYS IPM. “Biocontrol isn’t always an easy sell. These are living organisms, subject to the ups and downs of being alive. Biocontrol has to work consistently and well to work at all, and Carol is at the forefront of being sure it does.”
For Mark Yadon, greenhouse manager at Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouse in Williamsville, NY, the impressive thing about Glenister is her willingness to go the extra mile—many extra miles—to do groundbreaking research. “She’s a small business owner, yet she’s allocating lots of resources and an extraordinary amount of time to writing grants and compiling and processing data,” Yadon says. “It’s a huge benefit to the industry.”
Glenister is a past president and current board member of the Association of Natural Bio-Control Producers, which promotes industry-wide standards for ethics and excellence. Glenister will receive her award on July 21, 2009 at the Cornell University Horticulture Field Day in Ithaca, N.Y.