From: Eve Hightower, Appeal-Democrat, Calif.
Published October 19, 2005 12:00 AM

Sniffing Out Crop Pests, Naturally

John Post has a nose for trouble.

He and his father, George "Randy" Post, are agricultural consultants who can sniff out mites, pesky little bugs that can hinder orchard crop production by consuming the leaves.

"You can teach anyone how to do it," he said. "But most people haven't been in the field long enough to put two and two together."

It is just one technique he uses to help farmers determine what and when to spray - or not spray - in a field.

"My father can actually smell mites while driving by an orchard at 60 mph," the 43-year-old Post said. "He can smell different species, too."

Their ability to detect pests and determine if the bugs will be harmful helped Live Oak-based Agricultural Advisors, Inc. win one of nine IPM Innovator Awards given out this year by the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Integrated pest management (IPM) incorporates natural means of controlling harmful bugs, diseases and fungus on crops and decreasing the use of synthetic pesticides.

"This year's winners exemplify the kind of sustainable environmental practices and imaginative thinking that we want to encourage for pest management in the 21st century," said Mary-Ann Warmerdam, director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Early mite detection is important for effective pest management and can prevent the use of costly pesticides.

Post, a graduate of the University of California, Davis, said that, to him, mite damage smells like green apples. He said if he finds mites on leaves but cannot smell them, he knows they are not damaging the leaves. So he leaves them alone.

Some mites cause very little damage and are a food source for beneficial insects such as ladybugs.

When he is not sniffing out mites, Post is walking fields and inspecting the harvested product for farmers who employ the services of Agricultural Advisors, which was started in 1968 by George Post and Bob Hanke.

The consultants help with pest control, plant nutrition, irrigation management and more. In addition to orchard crops, they consult on field, row and vine crops.

Many consultants make money through the sale of pesticides. However, Agricultural Advisors brokers IPM knowledge, including ways of decreasing inputs, like pesticides, thereby decreasing the cost of producing a crop.

"We walk the fields every week to see what's going on, so we only use pesticides when they are really needed," Post said.

The company also does research trials for pesticide producers. "So we've been dealing with some chemicals for years before they come out," he said.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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