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Beating greenhouse bugs earns award for Long Island ag steward

For Immediate Release: August 30, 2011
Contact: Elizabeth Lamb | 607 254 8800 | eml38@cornell.edu

by Mary Woodsen

Riverhead, NY: In an agricultural district as important as Long Island—including a wholesale ornamental industry worth $160 million a year with greenhouses covering 11 million square feet—it makes sense to cut back on pesticides. The reason? Long Island is also home to nearly three million people.

Laurie McBride, an agricultural stewardship technician at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk County, is passionate about ornamentals, bugs—good bugs, that is—and people. This makes her a natural for helping owners of greenhouses large and small cope both with both pests and the pesticides often used to control them. Which in turn makes her a natural for a 2011 "Excellence in IPM" award. IPM, or "integrated pest management," helps people learn least-toxic ways to manage pests.

Laurie Mickaliger McBride

Greenhouses provide great growing conditions: constant warmth; plenty of sun; water and fertilizer as needed. But what's good for plants is good for bugs, and coping with pests is a perennial issue. It gets worse when pests become resistant to pesticides—especially in greenhouses on an island whose drinking water derives from a suite of aquifers just beneath a highly porous soil.

Among McBride's most important contributions: her work with growers to manage "Q biotype" whiteflies on poinsettias, a major wholesale crop in Long Island. This serious pest stunts and deforms poinsettias, carries diseases—and a greenhouse is boomtown for whiteflies.

But a tiny, pinprick-sized wasp, a "biocontrol," eats whiteflies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When these wasps run out of whiteflies, says McBride, "they're out of food. They die. They're not going to go outside and become a problem for anything else." In one greenhouse alone, McBride helped a grower eliminate pesticides on 27,000 square feet of poinsettias.

When wholesale growers C.J. Van Bourgondien Inc. began using biocontrols, says co-owner Mark Van Bourgondien, they had to work out the bugs. McBride put in long hours to develop the best practices—timing, dispersal, scouting techniques—that were also best for Van Bourgondien's balance sheet. "Thanks to Laurie," says Van Bourgondien, "We're now using IPM on some other crops as well. Laurie is fun to work with and able to teach us a thing or two."

Eager to help, dedicated, thorough—that's how Elizabeth Lamb, ornamentals coordinator for the New York State IPM Program, sees McBride. "Every year she takes on more responsibility, troubleshooting tricky situations until they're resolved," says Lamb. "Growers who work with Laurie know this—she's invaluable."

McBride receives her award at Cornell University's Plant Science Day and Barbecue on September 8, held at the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead, Long Island.