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Bringing Least-toxic Pest Control to Amish Farmers

Contact: Julie Dennis, 315-331-8415;

by Mary Woodsen

Bringing Least-toxic Pest Control to Amish Farmers

CONEWANGO VALLEY, NY: Cornell University’s emphasis on outreach to a wide range of farmers is now bringing science-based expertise to one of New York’s most traditional farm communities— Amish farm families in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

Dean Sprague, a field crops educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension, leads a project that teaches IPM problem-solving tactics to a team of Amish farmers near Conewango Valley, NY. IPM, or integrated pest management, seeks least-toxic methods of dealing with pests. Meetings are held in team members’ barns and fields.

A recent meeting had Sprague stopping by a team member’s farm a few days beforehand to tack several plain white index cards to overhead barn beams in the barn and milking parlor. The day of the meeting, Julie Dennis, a livestock educator with Cornell University’s New York State IPM Program, checked the cards as the group gathered. They looked nearly as clean and white as the day Sprague put them up.

“There’s no fly problem here,” said Dennis, noting that barn flies and other bothersome pests can reduce milk yields by as much as 15 percent. “You’re doing a great job of keeping organic matter cleaned up. Now, if you saw about a hundred spots on each card, you’d want to make serious plans for fly management.”

Because many flies have become resistant to sprays, Dennis recommended sanitation to reduce fly-breeding habitat as the critical factor in dealing with flies. “Nothing could be more important,” Dennis said. “This also helps keep the good guys going—the beneficial organisms that play a major role in fly control.”

The second line of defense: baits, carefully used, and sticky flytraps, ribbons, and tapes. There’s even a super-sized version, about six feet long and a foot wide. “Some ribbons emit a fly-attracting scent and have pictures of resting flies or spider webs on them,” Dennis says.

Why spider webs? “Perhaps the theory is that flies like to have something to land on,” Dennis says. “Maybe spiders have been on to something all along.”

The hands-on training approach works. “At our most recent meeting, one farmer told me that he’d drastically cut his fly problem based on what he learned,” Sprague relates.

The team-teaching project—called “Tactical Agriculture,” or TAg—has taught IPM methods to over 900 growers who collectively farm 170,000 acres since it began in 1990. The Amish TAg program addresses the needs of livestock and field crops operations as well as Amish farmers who are branching out into vegetable production. About 125 Amish families live in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.