Visionary Frank Wiles will be honored at the NYS Berry Growers Meeting today for his achievements in integrated pest management. Wiles, former County Extension director and current executive director of the New York State Berry Growers Association, has a 30-year history of fostering IPM. Receiving an award by himself won't be easy for Wiles, however, because he wants to share it with NYSBGA. "I'm convinced the award should go to all the berry growers," he says.
Wiles began his tenure with Extension as a 4-H agent, developing marketing programs. Gradually he shifted his focus to plant science and "U-Pick" operations. He served as the county director for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tioga County from 1975-90. During the early years of the NYS IPM Program, he worked closely with New York's fruit IPM coordinator Joe Kovach, encouraging growers of fruits and vegetables to practice IPM and establishing scouting protocols for strawberry pests in New York. Under his guidance, growers in the Southern Tier could see IPM firsthand and gain confidence in the methods.
Wiles also has a prominent place in the history of NYSBGA, which began in 1988. According to Wiles, the organization had a good start, then floundered. He says he and the board "worked with it and gave it the attention it needed." Wiles then became the first executive secretary in 1996. "I guess I've been effective in identifying the needs and the resources to the board so things get done," he says. Today, about 160 growers of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are members of the association.
Wiles says that berry growers are especially close to the consumer and sensitive to their concerns about how crops are grown. He views all NYSBGA members as IPM practitioners and has witnessed a drop in pesticide use in strawberries of 50 percent in New York over the past seven years. Scouting, selection of disease-resistant varieties, and cropping practices have contributed to pesticide savings.
Under the leadership of Wiles, the NYSBGA began defining an IPM berry marketing program. Growers worked with Extension faculty Kovach, Marvin Pritts, Greg English-Loeb, and Wayne Wilcox on this process. Wiles describes the labeling effort as "driven by grower groups." About a third of the NYSBGA members now grow berries under the official NYS Berry IPM Labeling Program and tell the public through pamphlets and signs why and how their crops are IPM-grown. A two-year grant from the Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program has helped to defray the administrative and start-up costs of this project.