- Agronomic: barley
- Additional Plants: herbs
- Education and Training: demonstration, display, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
- Farm Business Management: marketing management, value added
- Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement
- Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management, trap crops
- Sustainable Communities: public participation
A strong and diverse beneficial insect population is necessary to exert pressure on greenhouse pests but greenhouse plants usually do not offer sufficient habitat to sustain such populations. As a result beneficials move on and growers are forced to resort to chemical interventions to protect market-bound plants from pest damage. This project seeks to demonstrate that habitat attracts and supports a strong and diverse population of beneficials. Continuously blooming plants will offer beneficials a habitat so they can establish and reproduce. “Habitat pots” composed of Marigolds, Alyssum, Lantana and Fennel, and an aphid banker plant (a susceptible pest-infested host plant) will be distributed throughout a 30’x100’ herb greenhouse. Beneficials will be introduced into the habitat-enhanced greenhouse and a control greenhouse. Weekly scouting will record and monitor pest and beneficial populations in both greenhouses. We will replicate this trial over three sites: a commercial operation in New York, and research greenhouses at Cornell University and the University of Vermont. Key to grower adoption of this method are its product development, marketing and public relations appeal. Through sales of habitat pots, growers can announce they’re green; can educate customers as to why this matters; and can defray the costs of their pest control program. Most important is the dynamic established between growers and consumers wherein each reinforces the principles of sustainability – the former through their practices and the latter through their purchases.
Project objectives from proposal:
We seek support to test what we call a “Habitat Plant System” as a means of providing a favorable habitat for beneficial insects. This plant system will serve as a sustained source of beneficials for ongoing pest management. The Habitat Plant System includes a grouping of plants — specifically Marigolds, Alyssum, Lantana, Fennel — and an aphid-infested banker plant. Through this project we will see if this system will provide enough pollen, nectar and alternate hosts to attract and support a beneficial insect complex (such as Orius, Lacewings, Aphidoletes, aphid parasites and Syrphid flies) that will biologically control thrips, whitefly and aphids in the entire herb crop.
We will compare pest and natural enemy population levels in a greenhouse with the Habitat Plant System and a nearby greenhouse with no habitat plants. Our goal is to show that the greenhouse with the habitat plants maintains a strong and diverse population of beneficials (both those introduced and from outside the greenhouse) that successfully suppress pest numbers below economically damaging levels.
Our proposed solution offers multidisciplinary opportunities, touching areas such as marketing, public relations, product development and education:
Marketing: We plan to highlight the sustainability of the Habitat Plant System and its multiple applications. This will be done using an approach common for retail marketing of specific bedding plants of creating a brand name model similar to “Proven Winner” plants which uses plant tags, glossy fliers and signage. We will reinforce the brand name through radio spots and newspaper ads. Consumer response will be measured through sales.
Public relations: In addition to supporting beneficials, habitat plant systems could be promoted as evidence of the commercial greenhouse management’s commitment to non-chemical pest control and environmental stewardship.
Product development: We will design habitat pots with supporting user-friendly literature for sale to consumers for use in their gardens or greenhouses. Under the best scenario sales of habitat pots could support the greenhouse’s pest management program and provide an additional source of income.
Education: Most important, however, the customer and other growers would be educated about this sustainable approach to pest management. We expect that, as informed consumers, they might drive demand for such practices by exercising their buying power (in essence, voting with their wallet).