For growers who would like to implement more integrated pest management practices but can’t afford to, help may be available.

The Natural Resources Conservation Services, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, offers payments under its voluntary Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help farmers address resource concerns such as water quality, water quantity, air quality, soil loss, and wildlife.

IPM consultant Naná Simone of Wenatchee, Washington, said such payments could help growers make the leap to more advanced pest management practices or even transition to organic practices.

"To be able to get some financial assistance for something you would like to do can be really valuable," she said. For example, growers might be using mating disruption but still supplementing it with organophosphates such as Guthion or Lorsban. "They look at the cost of a program based on reduced-risk pesticides, and it’s daunting, and they also feel daunted by the grower management requirements. Maybe they can use some of these incentive payments to hire a consultant."

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program was introduced in the 1997 Farm Bill but is still evolving. Although improving irrigation and reducing erosion have been major focuses of the program, IPM practices also qualify, because they can have a positive impact on air quality and wildlife and reduce leaching of pesticides.

Planting of rose and strawberry beds near the orchard to enhance the biological control of leafrollers would be an acceptable practice, for example.

Simone has been hired by the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission for the next 18 months as the tree fruit industry EQIP coordinator to help orchardists apply for funding. The Washington State Horticultural Association and the Northwest Horticultural Council are also involved.

"I think the Tree Fruit Research Commission recognized that we have the end of Guthion [azinphos-methyl] coming rapidly upon us, and alternatives exist, but they are a lot more cost- and management-intensive, and so if growers can get financial assistance to make that transition, or that leap, that’s great. If you’re not in the game and at the table, you get locked out. It’s too important not to try to get additional resources for the industry to move in this direction."

Simone intends to work hand in hand with Washington State University’s pest management transition program, which is designed to encourage growers to reduce the use of organophosphates.

"These are very complementary activities," she said.

EQIP funds are awarded on a competitive basis to farmers in all aspects of agriculture. Washington State receives about $15 million to award each year, of which north central Washington receives $1 million. Of that, $200,000 would be allocated to orchards and vineyards. Additional funds might be available if funds are not fully used in another area.

During the selection process, applicants are assigned points relating to the beneficial impact on the environment of the conservation practices they plan to employ, and funding contracts are awarded to those with the most points. Growers with orchards alongside waterways with endangered fish species generally will get additional points, Simone said.

Growers can receive up to $200 per acre for employing IPM practices, including monitoring, calibration, and use of degree-day models, precision spray systems, reduced-risk pesticides, and mating disruption, up to a limit of $20,000 per contract. A person with multiple orchards may apply for separate contracts for different orchards.

Competitive

Applying for the program is rather complicated, however, and Simone ran workshops this summer to explain to growers how to prepare a competitive application.

The application process begins with a visit to the local Natural Resources Conservation Services office, where the grower will need to provide proof of ownership or lease for the orchard. The conservationist then guides the applicant through the application process.

Practices growers might consider, in addition to IPM, include:

  • Nutrient management—use of soil and leaf samples to determine fertilizer needs
  • Irrigation water management—monitoring soil moisture to determine how often and how much to irrigate
  • Irrigation system improvements—conversion of rill irrigation or impact sprinklers to microsprinklers or drip
  • Wildlife plantings, such as hedgerows, riparian buffers, and field borders, and
  • Windbreaks to reduce potential for pesticide drift into streams.

Generally, growers who are willing to apply multiple practices to improve more than one resource are more likely to have their applications approved.

Applications for 2008 are due by November 16 this year, and contracts with successful applicants are signed in the spring. Payments may be provided for up to three years. The rates are designed to cover a substantial portion of the costs of conservation practices and installation. For example, a grower converting a surface irrigation system to microsprinklers or drip would receive about 70 percent of the cost of an average-priced system. Limited-resource or new farmers might qualify for higher rates on certain practices.

For more information, go to the Web site at www.tree fruitresearch.com/eqip-program-information, or contact Naná Simone at (509) 667-9557 or by e-mail at nanas@nwi.net.