Pest Management in Alternative Crops: A New Learning Experience

Hydroponics system demonstration at Firebird Farm

Hydroponics system demonstration at Firebird Farm. Photo provided by Yao Afantchao.

As immigrant farmers embark on the adventure of food production, especially pertaining to ethnic specialty crops, they face many challenges including pest management issues. Because most of the plants they grow are varieties related to local specialty crops, insects and diseases adapt to these plants quickly. The farmers are usually taken by surprise when they discover this pest invasion.

Identifying and monitoring for pests

The most commonly encountered pests include Colorado potato beetle, flea beetle, aphid whiteflies, harlequin beetles, cabbage moth, brown marmorated stink bug, Japanese beetles, and cucumber beetles. For example, sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa) and jute leaf (Corchorus olitorius) are greatly affected by Japanese beetle. Garden eggs (Solanum aethiopicum) and gboma (Solanum macrocarpon) are attacked by Colorado potato beetle. The amaranth varieties, garden eggs, huckleberry are threatened by flea beetles. Most specialty crops are vulnerable to aphids in their seedling stage.

Some of the solutions applied at UDC Firebird Research

In our Urban Food Producer training program, sponsored by Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, emphasis is placed on sustainability. Therefore we provide technical assistance to help new farmers understand the most natural ways to manage their production issues. Among others, we recommend biological, physical, ecological, and chemical solutions.

Biological control solutions: because not all insects are destructive and in fact, many of them are beneficial insects that help fight plant enemies, we highly discourage the use of harsh insecticides. Diversity and crop inter-planting increase the resistance of the farm against pest and disease. Other biological products such as compost tea and natural fertilizers are used for general plant health and disease resistance.

Physical and ecological solutions: in their attempt to manage pests, some of the farmers use traditional methods, such as physically removing insects from plants, which is rather tedious and time-consuming. We encourage the creation of a vegetation habitat that attracts beneficial insects, uses low-toxicity pest and weed control, and emphasizes the practice of good garden/farm sanitation (keeping the farm clean). Moreover, soil health is emphasized to produce vigorous plants that are better able to fight off attacks from predators.

Chemical application: knowing that some farmers may be looking for quick solutions which may lead to the use of toxic pesticides, we recommend as an alternative, the use of the least-toxic methods such as soap solutions, and occasionally using organic and gentle substances such as Neem-Mix and others.

Conclusion and recommendations

New farmers must be able to implement sustainable food production methods such as IPM. Early exposure to best pest management practices through outreach programs such as the Northeastern IPM Center, local agricultural institutions, and extension programs, as well as personal relationships with existing local farmers, play an important role in their successful food production undertakings. By staying informed about issues related to pests and the importance of IPM, new farmers may share experiences and knowledge with members of their communities who may be interested in sustainable food production.

— Yao Afantchao, University of the District of Columbia


The Northeastern IPM Center promotes integrated pest management for reducing risks to human health and the environment. If republishing our news, please acknowledge the source (“From Northeast IPM Insights”) along with a link to our website.