FOR AS LONG as humans have cultivated the soil to grow the food that sustains them, a whole horde of beasts, bugs, and bacteria have attempted to partake of the bounty. For the modern fruit grower, the challenge of protecting their trees and fruit from predators and injury has been compounded by the introduction of new pests introduced to New England’s orchards from around the world.
The orchardist uses a continually evolving combination of tools to combat these threats, collectively known as integrated pest management, or IPM. These methods include:
- Add nutrients to the soil to strengthen the trees’ natural defenses
- Introduce beneficial insects to the orchard to feed on harmful ones
- Use pheromones to attract, distract, trap, or confuse the apple’s would-be predators
- Monitor the weather with sophisticated equipment
- Keep records to determine pest levels and to target critical periods in their life cycles
- Apply a chemical treatment only if a threshold for significant economic damage is reached
Growers have powerful incentives to use as few chemicals in the orchard as possible. They are expensive to purchase and apply. In New England, most farmers and their families live on the farm. Growing apples is hard work, a round-the-clock job requiring devotion to the land. Apple growers are part scientists, part environmentalists, who take immense pride in growing beautiful, delicious fruit and maintaining healthy orchard ecosystems.
There are many safeguards to guarantee the safety of the apples we eat. The heaviest pest pressures occur in the spring and early summer, beginning before the fruit is even formed, and often months before it is picked. Growers must follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s “pre-harvest intervals,” prescribed periods between the time the trees are sprayed and when it is safe to pick the fruit. Upon entering the packing house, the apples are floated in a long water bath before brushing and sorting begins.
The trend toward smaller dwarf and semi-dwarf trees means that less spray is needed to cover the tree canopies, and in some cases enables the grower to use drip lines instead. Whenever possible, growers spray near dawn when the air is still — this further limits chemical “drift.”
Consumers should always wash their fresh produce as a safeguard against mishandling between the time it leaves the farm and when it is purchased. Growers will continue to be vigilant in seeking effective, non-chemical treatments to combat the threats to their orchards. Consumers can help by being more accepting of minor blemishes to their fruit, the harmless patch of apple scab, the occasional spot or nick that typically keeps otherwise perfectly healthy fruit from the marketplace.
But as you will see from “Apple Growers Battle Pests with IPM,” our three-part video series, nearly every farmer is invested in producing healthy fruit in sustainable ways.
Part one addresses the first two of the five principles of IPM:
- Prevent pest problems
- Identify the pest
IPM, Part 2 covers:
- Set an economic threshold
- Monitor pest and damage
The series concludes with IPM, Part 3:
- Use a combination of management tools
The three IPM programs are posted on the New England Apple Association website, newenglandapples.org, and on YouTube. Please forward the links to anyone who is interested in this important and fascinating topic.
Russell Steven Powell produced and directed the programs for the nonprofit New England Apple Association, and Associate Producer Bar Lois Weeks wrote the script. John Browne videographed, edited, and narrated the programs. Special thanks to John Rogers, Pete Rogers, and Greg Parzych of Rogers Orchards in Southington, Connecticut, Chuck Souther of Apple Hill Farm in Concord, New Hampshire, and IPM Field Scout Brian Farmer of Apple Leaf LLC, for sharing their knowledge and experiences.
The series was funded with grants from Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancement and the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, and its Division of Pesticide Control.