Outsmarting SWD with Social Media

While many small fruit growers remember the days of mailed news alerts for pests and changes in growing conditions, Ric Bessin, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky, has turned to social media to help his growers combat berry growers’ No. 1 enemy: spotted wing drosophila (SWD).

“I remember the days when we would physically send newsletters to people,” Bessin says. “That was the technology of the time. But it was sort of dead end,” Bessin says.

Small fruit growers are familiar with the devastation that SWD can cause. Bessin says the fly was first detected in Kentucky in 2012.

“SWD, as many people have pointed out, has been a game-changer with the production of many small fruit crops here in Kentucky, particularly later-maturing blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and grapes,” he says.

With advancements in trapping and lures, Bessin says SWD has been detected in berry patches earlier and earlier each year. He says the genesis from mailer to email to social media was gradual. He said there was difficulty in the first year to get grower-volunteers to trap for SWD and send in samples to use in SWD reports.

“In the first year, it was very cumbersome getting the word out to everyone when I’d have alerts go out. It didn’t hit me immediately, but after the first season, I thought ‘couldn’t we use social media to more rapidly broadcast these results?’ When people get it, it’s very easy for them to pass it on to other groups as well,” he says.

Bessin created the Facebook page “SWDinKY” – Facebook.com/SWDinKY, to help get the word out much faster. Bessin cautions growers by saying that social media isn’t a total replacement for web postings and email alerts.

“Social media becomes another outlet for the information to try to capture as large of a diverse audience as you can capture,” he says.

The value in the Facebook page is in how sprays can be timed for pick-your-own growers, Bessin explains. With the trapping and alerts, growers of June-bearing strawberries have been able to finish harvest prior to SWD activity. Growers also are able to see how their management strategies are working.

“There are real, tangible savings to the grower by going to the Facebook site, seeing what these alerts are, and being able to [avoid spraying] at least some of their crops in the field,” he says. “If you miss a spray, you might miss a week’s worth of production on a crop where you’re only getting four weeks of production. You can lose a tremendous amount of produce if you do miss a spray.”

Bessin says pick-your-own growers are not only able to time sprays properly, but they are also able to communicate to their direct-market consumers about how sprays are timed.

“They’re offering consumers a quality product where they can demonstrate they’re only using insecticides as needed, particularly during that harvest window,” he says.

Bessin is also impressed by the reach his posts get. He says it’s typically four to five times the number of people who “like” his page. But, that’s the intention, he says.

“That’s the nice thing about social media, it’s not just the number of people that you directly contact. There is a second and third level of contact when you send out those messages,” he says.

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