New UF Extension Specialist Aims to Assist Small Fruit Growers

Karla Arboleda Pests, Strawberry, Top Posts

By Karla Arboleda

Southwest Florida growers can expect help from new small fruit Extension specialist Sriyanka Lahiri.

At the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC), Lahiri works with strawberries and blueberries to develop a pest management program that uses less broad-spectrum insecticides. Appointed in February, Lahiri helps the small fruit industry by researching new products.

STRAWBERRY PEST MANAGEMENT

Lahiri is working with Natalia Peres, strawberry pathologist at the GCREC, to investigate the potential of using the UV-C spectrum to manage pests in winter strawberry production systems.

“I’m basically trying to address all these issues through these projects … working with the industry to look at new chemistries and looking at the role of the natural enemies and how we can conserve them and make them more efficacious.”

Lahiri will be focusing on natural predators, like the big-eyed bug and the minute pirate bug, to help with pests that are harmful to crops.

“They need simple sugar that is typically present in nectar,” Lahiri said. “It’s important to understand if (the) availability of wildflowers, or even flowers in the ecosystem, will improve their capacity to look for prey.”

If insects don’t have the right nutrition, they can’t function in their ecosystem properly. Deciding where to plant flowers on a growing operation is essential to providing the best environment for strawberries and natural enemies.

“It’s very important to understand what kind of flower, the structure of the flower and the availability of the natural enemies to actually find this resource,” Lahiri said. “You can’t just put a random flower out there and expect to boost (strawberry) performance.”

So far, the market for organic produce is forcing growers to increase production. “I will try to look at alternative resources because eventually the market will demand it,” Lahiri said about pesticides.

SWITCHING TO SMALL FRUIT

During a time when citrus growers are facing many issues with citrus greening disease, Lahiri plans to discover more on how to help growers who are transitioning to the small fruit industry.

“(Growers) just find it easy to transition into blueberry production because they’re used to doing a perennial cropping system as opposed to an annual cropping system,” Lahiri said. “They’re going after blueberries because they may already have the right equipment.”

The similarities between the two crops include some pests.

“Something that I’m getting into this fall is looking at trying to characterize what kind of damage … the citrus root weevil is capable of causing in blueberry systems,” Lahiri said. “Historically, entomopathogenic nematodes have been used to control the citrus weevil.”

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