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Hummingbirds Offer Substitute for Pesticides in Berry Farming

The thought of spraying pesticides can be daunting — its cost, environmental and health implications are far reaching and unfamiliar to some farmers. Integrated pest management (IPM) offers a way for farmers to steer clear of harmful pesticides while fighting growing populations of insects. 

Being able to preserve crops is especially important for New York State berry farmers, who in the last 10 years, have seen upticks in the spotted wing drosophila (SWD). SWD slice into the skins and peels of fruit before depositing their eggs. Their larvae then eat the fruit from the inside out, leaving pupae, which grow into adult flies and repeat the cycle again, making for a nasty pest. These nonnative species were first observed by Cornell researchers in the fall of 2011. In 2012, these tiny fruit flies wreaked havoc on berries and cherries, causing a ~$5 million loss. 

Juliet Carroll, fruit coordinator for the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program based at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, NY, is conducting research on the effectiveness of hummingbirds in controlling SWD populations. The idea was introduced to her during a workshop with the NYS Berry Growers Association, where a Mississippi blackberry grower had successfully mitigated SWD numbers.

Hummingbirds are native to the northeast and can eat up to 2,000 small insects a day, without affecting most fruit. Hummingbirds are not selective and will eat aphids, gnats and small spiders in addition to SWD, making them a good pest management strategy for a variety of farmers. Carroll tested this theory by placing 25 hummingbird feeders on several one acre plots, which decreased the SWD count by up to 59 percent and lowered the total fruit infestation to 56 percent. 

“By keeping those feeders in place year in and year out, the hummingbirds will remember and they’ll come back and become more populous where we need them,” Carroll told CALS News.

Although hummingbirds alone can not guarantee a 100 percent reduction in pests, Carroll and her team are looking for ways to integrate this strategy into larger scale SWD management methods. 

Read more about how hummingbirds can help protect NYS berry growers on CALS News.

Olivia Weinberg

Olivia is a senior in CALS studying Environment and Sustainability with a minor in Public Health. Olivia's passion for farming began in high school and has continued throughout college, where she's worked on farms in Maine, and the Finger Lakes and Hudson Valley regions of New York. She is interested in the role that agriculture plays in the intersection between human and environmental health. Specifically, she is interested in combining farmer equity with restorative agricultural practices to improve food systems on a more holistic level.
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