MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Pesticides can be a useful tool in a gardeners arsenal against pests, but they pose their own fair share of issues. That is why an expert from West Virginia University (WVU) Extension is sharing the safe alternatives to pesticides and what advantages they have over them.

According to WVU Today, Carlos Quesada, an entomologist and pesticide safety education coordinator with WVU Extension and assistant professor at the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, is working to “educate West Virginians about integrated pest management (IPM) and pesticide safety” with the help of an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program.

Carlos Quesada, statewide entomologist, WVU Extension (WVU Photo)

“IPM uses different techniques, including non-chemical control and chemical control which is the use of insecticides or other type of pesticides,” Quesada said. “And that helps the growers to increase their productivity but also to be environmentally friendly by using different techniques.”

Quesada will teach IPM pesticide safety to growers over the next two years, including reaching out to Spanish-speaking agricultural workers.

“When people follow the label directions, pesticides might be harmless,” Quesada said. “However, when they don’t, they might be harmful. There are many pesticides that are highly toxic to fish, for example. We are covering all these IPM techniques and also things like evaluation and monitoring on these programs.”

According to Quesada, pesticides these days are used more as a preventative measure rather than a way to get rid of existing pests.

“It’s because they know from experience what time of year that pest might show up,” he said. “Now, we’re trying to teach growers to monitor pests, to evaluate density of pests, and based on those evaluations, they can decide whether to apply that pesticide. It should be the last resort.”

As for what a grower can do to deal with pests outside the use of pesticides, Quesada has a few suggestions.

“There are some insects that, if you have an outbreak, the only solution is pesticide. However, we can go to that grower and say, ‘For next year, you can do other approaches like a crop rotation.’”

Crop rotation involves the planting of a different crop from the usual one for a period of about two or three years. This interferes with pests’ life cycles, thus reducing their population. After a while, a grower can then plant their original crop.

There are also barriers like row covers which can act as a preventative measure outside of pesticides.

“It does no good if we, as scientists, produce and publish a fancy paper that people cannot even understand,” he said. “It’s better to put it in a way that everybody can understand. So that’s what Extension does. It’s kind of like a bridge between research and the growers so they can improve their crop production. And so they can also improve their life.”