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Orchardists participating in a research trial that evaluated reduced-risk pest management say that the reduced-risk practices are effective, but they are more expensive and require intensive monitoring and management.

Four Michigan tree fruit growers shared their experiences from a regional, four-year research project during a session at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable, and Farm Market Expo held in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The project, funded by a $1.9 million competitive grant, was conducted in Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Avoidance and Mitigation Program.

Michigan State University personnel conducted the scouting and monitoring of pest populations for the project, which included nine Michigan growers. Michigan has a limited number of private pest consultants that provide monitoring as a grower service.

High cost was cited again and again by the panel of orchardists as a major drawback to the new pest control tactics.

Rodney Winkel of Grandview Orchards in Watervliet, Michigan, grows cherries, peaches, apples, and grapes. He said that what he learned the most from the project was the amount of management time required when using reduced-risk pesticides. Scouting and monitoring for pests and timing reduced-risk pesticides required more time and more intensive management than did using broad-spectrum, organophosphate pesticides.

He also found that neglected orchards in the area can be problematic with reduced-risk strategies because pests move in from the abandoned orchards.

“But the most important aspect of the program is the additional cost,” he said. “We all want to reduce pesticide use. But there are added costs to this program that are above the chemical costs. I can handle the additional chemical costs, but what are the added costs to management? Where do I get the personnel to do this?”

Belding, Michigan, orchardist Mike Wittenbach is convinced that growers can implement reduced-risk strategies that are effective. But he, too, worries about the cost of the new chemicals. “Cost is the biggest factor, especially when it is about $100 more per acre.”

Wittenbach, who grows apples on about 225 acres with his father, used pheromone mating disruption before participating in the project. They have used an independent pest consultant the last five years to scout for pests. But costs are still an important factor in choosing pest control strategies.

“I’m not a hobby farmer. I have kids to put through college, taxes, and farm expenses. I will hang on to the standard program until I’m no longer able.”

Wittenbach is using funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program, reauthorized as part of the last Farm Bill, to help pay for pheromone and codling moth virus applications on some of his apples.

Management

Trever Meachum, a Hartford, Michigan, fruit and vegetable grower, said that though cost is a major factor, he believes management is the biggest issue. “It takes a lot of training and money.”

He noted that his family picked up a 250-acre orchard during the project and trapped 800 oriental fruit moths in one summer. Meachum farms 700 acres with his family at High Acre Fruit Farm, producing tart cherries, apples, peaches, and other soft fruit.

Meachum said that he will continue to move toward using newer chemistries of pesticides with reduced risk, including pheromone mating disruption. His family has already adopted modern spray technology and they keep tree canopies open for better spray coverage.

Art Lister of Ludington, Michigan, grows a variety of tree fruit—cherries, peaches, pears, plums, and apples—on about 800 acres. He got into the project to gain experience with reduced-risk pesticides to prepare for the day
when organophosphate chemicals are
no longer available due to resistance or regulatory action.

“Knowing the answer before the question is posed is always advantageous,” he said. “If we lose OPs, I want to know what to expect.”

He plans to use more reduced-risk chemicals in hopes of extending the life of organophosphates. “I think that will be a fact of life for all growers.”

Lister added that there are no silver bullets when it comes to pest management strategies to reduce the high cost of reduced-risk pest control. Growers must use information from as many sources as they can, including independent scouts and pesticide dealers.

Winkel said finding scouts who are trained in pest monitoring is a problem in his area. He sees a bright future for controlling peach twig borer and codling moth with pheromones, but said that growers will have difficulty implementing practices without trained scouts to help time the application of the reduced-risk chemicals.

Wittenbach also found that minor pests can become more major when selective pesticides are used. He had problems with both San Jose scale and wooly apple aphid, “pests that I’ve never had problems from before.”

Meachum, too, has found that “minor pests are now becoming some of our major pests.” But he noted that he is now doing a better job of scouting.

Before, minor pests might have been controlled with the one of the broad-spectrum chemicals.