Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

News Insects Pest Management
New app seeks to protect pumpkin and squash production in Ontario

May 8, 2024  By Fruit and Vegetable magazine


Any time farmers use a pesticide to combat one species of pest, it is likely that other insects – many beneficial – are being affected as well. Such is the case for Xenoglossa pruinosa, better known as the hoary squash bee.

In Ontario, however, a new, free app hopes to provide farmers with a tool to monitor pollinators on their crops – measuring numbers of this “canary in the pumpkin patch” and flagging problems with an area’s pollinator force before production is affected.

Found on most pumpkin/squash farms across Ontario, the hoary squash bee provides highly focused, free pollination services to these crops, underpinning beloved fall traditions of pumpkin carving and pie making. Although they are not known to be at risk presently, hoary squash bees, like many other bees, are highly sensitive to commonly used insecticides.

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University of Guelph pollination biologist Dr. Susan Chan explains: “What we’ve found is that when an area’s squash bee population declines, other pollinators – native species like bumble bees and paid honey bee pollination services, for example – can make up the difference. It’s the whole pollination force that matters, but it also matters whether there are diverse species in the pollination force, in case one species declines.”

“If one species of pollinator declines, farmers might not immediately notice a decline in crop yields,” says Chan. “However, an over-reliance on insecticides affects an entire ecosystem, so by the time squash and pumpkin growers start seeing production decline, it’s likely too late. We must pay attention to crop pollinators before pollination is compromised.”

The new tool, SCOUT IPPM, is a mobile app Chan and her research partners are introducing in 2024. It combines pest and pollinator scouting data, giving farmers straightforward recommendations to optimize production.

Like many crops, flowering pumpkin and squash plants are visited by pollinators and pests alike, often at the same time. Without solid information about pest load throughout the growing season, many farmers treat crops with pesticides as a preventative measure – negatively affecting helpful pollinators and beneficial pest control insects, along with pests like cucumber beetles.

With SCOUT IPPM, a “scouting” session involves taking a few minutes to count pests like cucumber beetles and pollinators like squash bees, bumblebees, and honey bees, and easily record findings in the app. Whether farmers are scouting one field or multiple fields on different farms, the app keeps all the information organized and secure. And it provides growers with valuable feedback on their pest levels, with recommended treatment actions.

At the end of the growing season, the app anonymously compares pollinator abundance and resilience to other farms in the – and if a farm has below-average pollinator levels, users will receive science-based recommendations for increasing and diversifying their farm’s pollination force.

Scout IPPM is a collaboration between the University of Guelph and Pollinator Partnership, with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.


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