George Norton has been with the IPM Innovation Lab, formerly the IPM Collaborative Research Support Program, since the very beginning in 1993. A professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Tech, he has worked on IPM IL projects in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. He is currently the principal investigator (PI) for IPM IL’s Vegetable Crops and Mango IPM in Asia project, as well as a co-PI for the Vegetable Crops for East Africa project. Both projects focus on finding and disseminating IPM solutions to local fruit and vegetable pests and diseases to limit or eliminate the use of harmful pesticides while increasing farmer incomes and food security.
Agriculture is in George Norton’s DNA. He comes from generations of farmers and grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York, where besides cows, his family had pigs, chickens, and a one-acre vegetable garden. He then joined the Peace Corps, working in Colombia for two years, where he taught coffee farmers to raise vegetables, fruits, rabbits, chickens, and fish.
He got his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. all in agricultural economics. In 1980, he ended up at Virginia Tech in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, where he has taught ever since.
“One of the early projects I worked on was a project on integrated pest management,” Norton says of how he got involved in the discipline. “Somebody had a big project here and I picked it up because he left. So I got to work with entomologists and plant pathologists. Although I do impact assessment across any kind of agricultural technology, I’ve probably spent half my time in the pest management area.”
In 1993, Norton learned about the call for proposals for the IPM Collaborative Research Support Program. He went to S.K. De Datta, the director of what was then known as the Office of International Development at Virginia Tech, with the news.
“Some other land grant universities were putting in a proposal, so I suggested we team up with them because they were probably going to get it,” Norton says. “S.K. called them and they said no. He said, ‘we can do it ourselves.’ So we put in our own proposal and got it funded!”
Norton has worked with the IPM Innovation Lab ever since. He just returned from a trip to Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Nepal for a planning meeting for the phase five project, “Vegetable Crops and Mango IPM in Asia.” He’s worked with IPM IL in Bangladesh and Nepal before, but this was his first time working in Cambodia.
“Things went well. We had to acquaint ourselves with the new mission there and the people in Cambodia and our new collaborator there—iDE—which we were quite pleased with. They are dedicated and qualified.” iDE is a non-profit NGO whose mission is creating income and opportunity to reduce rural poverty. They are also a project collaborator in Nepal.
Norton was also excited about some of the new co-PIs on this project. “It’s good to get some young people involved,” he says of two co-PIs, Dr. Megan O’Rourke, an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Horticulture, and Dr. Cristina Rosa, a plant virologist teaching at Penn State.
During the trip, the IPM Innovation Lab team conducted field visits in Cambodia and Nepal, and attended meetings in all three countries. The focus was on putting together IPM packages to deal with pest problems, new and old. In Nepal, IPM IL director “Muni” Muniappan found that there is a likelihood that Tuta absoluta, the South American tomato leafminer, is coming to Nepal, so the project will now also be working on that pest.
“These pest problems never stop,” Norton explains. “They evolve, new ones come along. Things ebb and flow.”
When he’s not working, Norton enjoys gardening and cheering on the Hokies at football and basketball games. He misses quite a few games each season however, because he’s busy traveling the world, doing impact assessments and working on integrated pest management solutions.