Daily News Archive
From December 11, 2006                                                                                                        

Vegetable Growers Switching to IPM
(Beyond Pesticides, December 11, 2006) Vegetable producers are beginning to respond to the demand for food grown without pesticides by changing their practices to include integrated pest management (IPM), including biological control systems. Researchers at Penn State and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) will begin a new biological control project in 2007 that will focus on these alternative management practices.

A biological control system, also known as biocontrol, relies on beneficial organisms to control unwanted species. Since most unwanted species have various parasites, diseases and predators that naturally manage their populations, beneficial organisms can be purchased and released as a means of control. This safer approach to vegetable growing, building on the same successful approach adopted by greenhouse growers over the last several years, results in improved crop yield and quality. It also can greatly reduce and sometimes eliminate the need for pesticides.

Biological control systems are part of a grower's IPM program. IPM is a systems approach used to manage crop growth by combining physical, biological, cultural and lastly, least toxic chemicals if needed after other techniques have been exhausted. The tactics that are used are considered safe, profitable and environmentally compatible. In addition, IPM requires an education process that directs the grower to be very knowledgeable about organisms and monitor the fields on a frequent basis.

According to Cathy Thomas, PDA IPM coordinator and project coordinator, the demand for food grown with fewer pesticides is not solely based on consumers, but also federal regulators. Traditionally, vegetable growers in Pennsylvania have relied on using high quantities of chemicals to control insects, with greater than 87 percent of all snap beans, sweet corn, and pumpkins receiving some form of pesticide in 2004. Ms. Thomas explained, "Because of market demand and new regulations, growers need to develop IPM strategies that reduce risk by using alternatives to pesticides as well as safer pesticides. Reducing the use of pesticides also creates a safer working environment for farm workers, while reducing the regulatory requirements placed on the grower."

The project will involve two groups, conventional farmers in the Amish and Mennonite community, and organic farmers involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA is a relatively new model of a local, sustainable agricultural system where local residents pay a membership fee in advance, and sometimes volunteer work, to a local farmer to cover the cost of production. Purchasing a share in a community-supported organic farm provides consumers with a weekly supply of produce in season for less than non-organic supermarket prices.

According to Ms. Thomas, "The CSA groups are already focused on the production of organic and pesticide-free vegetables. They'll benefit from the project by receiving assistance in developing IPM methods such as introduction of biocontrols to control insects and preservation of natural enemies." Ms. Thomas said that both groups will also benefit from one-on-one training provided by an IPM specialist that is designated to make periodic visits to each farm location. The training will teach them about insect identification, insect life cycles, and proper control of insects using IPM and biocontrol techniques.

The project is being funded by an Environmental Protection Agency Integrated Pest Management Implementation program grant. For more information, contact Cathy Thomas at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture at (717) 772-5204.