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Tactical Agriculture Teams (TAg) expand

TAg Teams, an educational concept begun in New York by the IPM field crops team in 1990, reached out to new audiences in 1996. Sixty farmers from 11 counties were enrolled in TAg Teams this year, bringing the total number of people who have received TAg instruction over the years to approximately 650. This year's group included both Amish and Native American growers for the first time.

Identical tests administered to participants before and after the TAg program proved the high educational value of this year's sessions. Test results showed that grower understanding of alfalfa insect pest management issues improved by 80 percent and knowledge of corn rootworm improved by 55 percent.

Knowledge about corn rootworm is especially important. Growers with only a partial understanding of this pest often try to manage it with routine, preventive applications of soil insecticides. TAg Team participants learn that such routine treatments are not necessary in first-year corn and can be avoided thereafter with no risk of corn rootworm injury if crop rotation is possible.

Pest data collected by TAg scouts provided additional proof of the wisdom of using IPM instead of blanket treatment programs. Only 33 percent of the alfalfa fields in the TAg project had alfalfa weevil populations over the "action threshold" (the population of a pest that, if left untreated, would cause significant economic damage). These fields were managed by timely cutting of the alfalfa; no use of pesticide sprays for alfalfa weevil was reported.

Scouting for the potato leafhopper, another alfalfa pest, showed that only seven percent of the fields were over the action threshold this year. Several growers were able to avoid treating for potato leafhopper by re-checking their fields after a heavy rainstorm. Rain can cause high mortality rates for this and other small insects.

Evaluations of the educational program by this year's participants reflected both gains in knowledge and favorable impressions of TAg:

100 percent stated that TAg helped them better understand their IPM role

100 percent plan to continue scouting their fields

86 percent said that TAg increased their awareness of pest and crop events

75 percent would recommend TAg to others "very strongly"

"I have seen a real savings on fertilizer cost and a yield increase by using the pre-sidedress nitrogen test.... I got so much out of TAg that I would like to do it again."

-Gary Davis, Schoharie County

"I taught soil science for years at SUNY-Morrisville, so I was used to working with the principles we dealt with in TAg, but now I have a real appreciation of what it's like to actually apply these principles."

-Edward Lynch, Madison County

"What I learned from TAg has helped to prove what I thought was true, that you can grow corn without commercial fertilizer.... I also appreciated the opportunity to talk with other farmers, to solve problems together. Sometimes you think you're the only one with a problem. It's a relief to learn that you're not."

Harold Vroman, Schoharie County