James Manson completes IPM cadetship

Every year IPM Technologies partners with biocontrol producers, chemical companies and chemical resellers to offer an IPM cadetship to a student from La Trobe University. This year the highly sought after position was offered to James Manson. He found the experience very valuable and offered the following reflections on completion of the program in January.

I can relate to a pest that lands on a juicy crop and is thrilled to suck up everything it can. For three weeks I have enjoyed pestering a range of specialists in crop protection with endless questions in a similar way. But unlike those thankless insects I am very grateful for the lessons I have learned from this cadetship. The experience will benefit me for the rest of my career.

The La Trobe University cadetship with IPM Technologies gives students a firsthand insight into the roles of various stakeholders in the crop protection industry.

For me, this included working in the field, monitoring strawberry crops with Michael Gangi of EE Muirs and Sons in Monbulk. It was very helpful to see a two-spotted mite hotspot grow from one week to the next, to watch Persimilis nearly completely clean it up, and to understand that spraying for pests makes sense before Christmas when strawberry prices are high, but not after Christmas when prices drop. Chatting over coffee in the packing shed I heard that strawberry farmers in the area found themselves in a real crisis a couple decades ago when their key chemicals failed, but IPM got them out of it.

I also helped with behind-the-scenes trial work with Roger Loveless of AgNova. We visited vineyards in the Yarra Valley where he is testing the efficacy of chemical control products. It’s one small piece of the unseen, gargantuan effort involved in developing new chemical controls for pests and diseases. The time and expense impressed upon me the fact that IPM compatible chemicals should be used wisely so that their impact can be maximised and lengthened.

Parag Borse, an IPM Consultant with Biological Services, took me on a few of his monitoring trips around Gippsland, checking strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, eggplant, tomato and capsicum crops. We observed a strawberry crop covered in released Persimilis and the carcasses of dead two-spotted mite, and Nesidiocorus “Nessie bugs” controlling whiteflies in tomatoes. I saw that the industry has been improved by the services that can supplement endemic biological control.

Every week I was privileged to spend a day with Dr Paul Horne and Angelica Cameron from IPM Technologies. The daytrip around the Cranbourne-Pakenham area gave me an opportunity to integrate the things I had learned from other people through the rubric of IPM. They are full of stories of people changing their beliefs about pest management for the better. In the end, I learned, pest management is about people and how they make use of the cultural, biological and chemical tools at their disposal.

Of all the species of the world people are most able to comprehend complexity, but we seem to love simplifying things. It is easier to run monocultures on the same land every year and spray by the calendar. But we know from examples of pesticide resistance, poor pest control and environmental degradation that it is dangerous, or at the very least extremely expensive, to do so. Through this cadetship in IPM I have seen that an appropriately nuanced option exists for pest management. By understanding more about insecticides’ impact on pests as well as beneficial predators, by knowing more about the trends of natural biological controls, and by learning more techniques that synergise with an agroecosystem it is possible to practice an intelligent pest management system that helps put food on the table for generations to come.

I am very thankful to all of the people who mentored me during this cadetship. I have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn and think through pest management from multiple perspectives in a critical way. I hope to take the lessons I have learned with me as I continue in my career as I work towards my goal of assisting smallholder farmers in Southeast Asia through agricultural development. It will always be a highlight of my time at university. Thank you IPM Technologies!