Warmer temperatures in the southern (relative to the Northern) parts of the US, make pest management particularly difficult for vegetable producers. This environmental condition augurs well for the persistence and proliferation of pests for longer periods of the year in southern states like Alabama. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) involves the use of multiple compatible tactics in the management of pests in ways that take environmental, economic, and social impacts into consideration. The use of IPM methods is, however, more critical for organic relative to conventional vegetable producers. This is because organic pesticides are generally not as fast-acting and persistent as their conventional (i.e. synthetic counterparts). The absence of such “quick fixes” makes early pest detection and the use non-pesticidal management tactics, more critical for organic vegetable producers. The extremely low level of organic vegetable production in Alabama presents Extension professionals with clients that are almost exclusively, conventional crop producers. There is an urgent need to train new Extension professionals and re-orient their seasoned colleagues on best practices in organic pest management. There is also a need for regular in-person and online IPM workshops to reinforce best practices and to update these Extension professionals on new findings from organic pest management research conducted in Alabama and other agro-climatically analogous regions. The COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant social distancing guidelines have also brought to the fore the urgent need to re-tool extension professionals and students with the know-how and skills to enable them to effectively perform their functions from remote locations.
Project objectives from proposal:
1. Train participants to appreciate the heightened importance of the preventive elements of IPM in organic pest management. This will enable them to explain (to sustainable crop producers Alabama) both the conspicuous and subtle differences between conventional and organic pest management practices as well as the heightened need to deploy pest management methods early in organic crop production.
2. Help trainees to have a better appreciation of the human and environmental health impacts of sustainable food production practices as well as gain a more balanced perspective on the environmental and economic considerations in organic food production. Trainees will be equipped with more information on the importance of crop market value in pest-management decision-making. Trainees will thus be equipped to lead new sustainable crop producers towards realistic (economic) expectations.
3. Help trainees to deal with feelings of inadequacy and/or aversion towards virtual teaching and learning methods through opportunities to pick up the requisite skills in virtual interactions. Extension professionals and students will have a better understanding of the use of effective questions and appropriate technological tools for remote appreciation of farms in ways that mimic in-person visits. Extension professionals will learn best practices in taking informative pictures and videos for pest identification and management purposes.
4. Offer trainees several opportunities, tools, and the know-how to maximize the use of financial and time resources in their quest to serve transition and organic crop producers in Alabama.