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Sandra Menasha

Accolades Earn “Excellence in IPM” Award for Long Island Growers’ Advocate

by Mary Woodsen

Sandy MenashaGENEVA, NY. January 28, 2016: “An invaluable resource.” “Wonderful to work with.” “Always positive.” Long Island farmers know a good thing when they see it — which is why Sandra Menasha, vegetable specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) in Suffolk County, has earned an Excellence in IPM award from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (NYS IPM) at Cornell University.

Mark Zaweski of MKZ Farms has worked closely with Menasha for the past decade on a range of projects. “But her work with me on IPM scouting outweighs all the others,” Zaweski says.

A good scout knows how to monitor crops to estimate pest numbers — and beneficials, too. When it comes to disease and insect pests, Menasha’s what, where, and how many reports save Zaweski money. It’s a core tenet of IPM: no point treating for a pest that isn’t there.

Yet some pests are so daunting that when conditions are right, you can lose an entire crop. If you’ve got 50 acres of pumpkins and Phytophthora blight erupts, you can kiss your crop goodbye. (“Phytophthora” isn’t an easy name to pronounce. But it’s the only one we’ve got.) The blight also infests the roots of long-term tenants: weeds. This gives it long-term staying power.

Fifteen years ago Don McKay, with 50 acres in pumpkins, was close to throwing in the towel. But then he heard about research Menasha was doing on ”biofumigants” at the Cornell University Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center (LIHREC) in Riverhead. Fumigants are chemicals some growers use to combat nasty soil-borne diseases. Biofumigants offer similar services, but with an IPM twist: they are nature’s chemicals, produced by plants like mustard.

Research at LIHREC confirmed that when planted early and tilled under at flowering, mustard can control Phytophthora blight. Menasha worked with McKay to iron out the details. Such as: knowing the fine line between when to plant mustard, get it tilled under, and get pumpkins into the ground.

“Planting two crops instead of one is more labor-intensive,” says McKay. “But you also get more benefits. The mustard decomposes into organic matter that enriches the soil.” And Menasha? “Sandy’s always on it,” he says. “Without her, I’d have given up on pumpkins.”

Margaret McGrath, a research professor at LIHREC, works closely with Sandy on biofumigation, reduced tillage, and much more. “Sandy takes the lead in encouraging growers to try these IPM tactics on their farms,” McGrath says. “Now more and more growers are routinely using them.”

Sandra Menasha received her award at the 2016 Empire State Fruit and Vegetable Expo in Syracuse, NY. NYSIPM strives to lessen the risks both of pests and pesticides.