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Steve McKay

Neither Rain nor Mud nor (Etc.) Earns IPM Award for Cornell Farm Manager

by Mary Woodsen

Three days after Tropical Storm Lee blew through the Northeast in early September 2011, turning streams into rivers, then lakes, getting a tractor into the waterlogged research plots at Cornell University's Thompson Research Farm was an obvious no-go. So farm manager Steve McKay slipped on a backpack sprayer and slogged through the muddy fields bordering Fall Creek.

McKay was helping test a new "decision support system," which predicts if or when growers need to spray to protect crops from late blight, a deadly plant diseases. McKay's team supports research to help growers use softer fungicides and only as a last resort—a principle that's key to IPM, or integrated pest management.

And the next day—a Saturday—he was back again in the cab of a backhoe, digging temporary drainage ditches to salvage what he could of the experiment.

Now for his dedication, expertise, and leadership, McKay has earned an Excellence in IPM Award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, which seeks least-toxic solutions to pest problems, including plant diseases.

"Working with Steve is an absolute delight," says William Fry, professor of plant pathology at Cornell University, noting that McKay is indispensable in evaluating late-blight forecasting systems. "With his help, we've got data on late-blight resistance in nearly 100 potato and tomato cultivars."

McKay manages 70-plus acres of trials for as many as 15 different scientists on 15 to 20 different crops, say horticulture professors Robin Bellinder and Don Halseth. McKay does "an astounding job of caring for our research trials," they say. "We can't think of a better person to receive the Excellence in IPM award."

McKay receives his award on February 11 at Cornell's Horticulture Seminar Series.