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Jim Tette

by Mary Woodsen

James Tette, New York's "Father of IPM," Receives IPM Award

NYS Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Pat Hooker, Director of NYS Agriculture & Markets Division of Plant Industry Bob Mungari, and Jim Tette

From left to right: NYS Agriculture & Markets Commissioner Pat Hooker, Director of NYS Agriculture & Markets Division of Plant Industry Bob Mungari, and Jim Tette.

Dr. James Tette is being honored with an "Excellence in IPM Award" from the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program at Cornell University. Tette built New York's program from scratch, making it one of the top IPM programs in the nation by the time he retired in 1999.

"There was only the outline of a program when Jim was hired," says Wendell Roelofs, professor of entomology at Cornell University's Agriculture Research Station in Geneva, NY. It was 1973, and public controversy about pesticides had grown heated. So the United States Department of Agriculture decided to test pilot projects at each state's land-grant university that would help reduce pesticide use.

When Cornell University got that first grant for IPM, they were looking for an entomologist, not the chemist Tette was. But Tette had spent several years isolating the pheromones, or "sex scents," of insects. Pheromones are chemicals that insects use to find each other so they can mate. Analyzing these pheromones made it possible to develop exciting new ways to track insect pests.

But insects give off these chemicals in vanishingly small amounts. They're tricky to use. Tette learned how to make pheromone lures and traps. These traps, now a key IPM tool, let growers know whether pests were in the neighborhood and likely to attack their crops.

In 1973, Tette was given six months to develop a program to help apple growers deal with pesky codling moths and leafroller moths. Tette set up his first research station in a small trailer at Orbaker Fruit Farm in Williamson, NY. "We were using calendar sprays back then," says co-owner Gary Orbaker.

"Calendar sprays" were routine in the 1960s and 70s. Many growers sprayed every few days or so, whether pests were actually around or not. But such sprays are the antithesis of sound IPM. Tette's research crew fine-tuned how to predict when damaging moths were on the wing. Orbaker Fruit Farm hasn't used a calendar spray since.

Tette's original six months turned into a year and then another. Besides his work with fruit growers, he soon had IPM programs in place for vegetable and dairy farmers. His aim--to protect all New Yorkers by working with farmers to reduce pesticide use.

In 1985, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, impressed by Cornell's IPM work, proposed a law that established the NYS IPM Program. The law passed, and in 1986 Ag and Markets began funding the program. Soon Tette added educators and researchers in ornamental crops to his IPM team.

In the late 1990s the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also lent its support to the program. Tette put a "community IPM" program in place that reached out to schools, landscapers, apartment superintendents, and homeowners--to all of New York's 19 million citizens.

"I was always amazed at the success Jim had in getting so many people on board, from growers to extension agents to professors," says entomologist Roelofs.

For Tette, it was all about the program, says Bob Mungari, director of Plant Industry at New York Ag and Markets.

"I never recall Jim seeking personal recognition or gain," Mungari says, noting that New York is one of only a handful of states to provide direct state funding for IPM research and education. "You couldn't help but envy Jim and the relationship between him and his staff. If New York State recognized anyone as the father of IPM, it would no doubt be Dr. James Tette."

Tette receives the award on December 7, 2007, at a meeting of the New York State IPM Program in Geneva, NY.