Todayâ€™s consumer is educated and more and more people want to know about how their food is treated and where it comes from. Words such as “organic” and “sustainable” that were once reserved for a small population of foodies or environmentalists are now making their way into everyday vocabulary.
As a result, farmers are reacting to this new shift in food culture and are learning about alternative growing and treatment methods. For three generations, The Orr Family Farm has been owned and operated by George S. Orr & Sons, Inc. Today, this 1,000-acre farm is managed by Mike and Mark Orr. And, two years ago, Katy Orr-Trenary returned to manage the farmâ€™s market.
â€œOur family has a responsibility to the future stewards of our land, and to future customers,â€ she explained. “Thatâ€™s why we are implementing new farming methods; we are flexible and open to change.”
Educating the Consumer
According to Katy, many people believe that there are only two types of farming: conventional and organic. However, a continuum lies between the two â€“ integrated pest management (IPM) â€“ an effective and environmentally-sensitive approach to pest management.
IPM is based on a combination of common-sense practices. Its programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest-control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
The Orr Family Farm has practiced IPM for years, however, new pest management strategies have recently become available that are safer for the environment, worker/applicator, and the consumer (less pesticides and lower toxicity pesticides used on food). However, most of these new tools are more specific in activity (affect one or two pests, rather than multiple pests); require more critical timing (pest-stage specific); command a greater knowledge base; and are more expensive.
Additionally, the proper use of these new tools requires more monitoring by the grower, but it can also result in reduced pesticide use and cost; and improvements in fruit quality because management strategies are implemented at the optimum time, based on monitoring information.
So, how are these new strategies to be implemented? Dr. Henry Hogmire and Dr. Alan Biggs, Extension Specialists from the West Virginia University Tree Fruit Research Farm in Kearneysville, WV shared information with the Orr Family Farm about the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) which is providing the funding to help enhance IPM practices.
The incentive payment provided by NRCS makes it possible for growers to implement these strategies and to maintain the economic viability and sustainability of the orchard business. And, the consumer benefits from having food with lower levels and less toxic pesticide residues.
At the conclusion of each season, Dr. Hogmire will sign off that the components of the IPM plan have been completed, and the grower will receive payment from NRCS.
How Does IPM Work?
Phil Bolyard, who manages the IPM program, explains that the program is divided into three different levels. Level one is reduced-risk pesticides; level two is reduced-risk pesticides and mating disruption; and level three is reduced-risk pesticides, mating disruption, and advanced monitoring and management.
â€œWe have 21 acres at level one and 732.6 acres at level three,â€ Bolyard said. â€œAnd, only apples and peaches are allowed in the program.â€ Dr. Hogmire explains that the reason only apples and peaches are allowed is because that is their area of expertise.
â€œSince we developed the program, these were the initial crops included,â€ he said. â€œThe commercial tree fruit industry in West Virginia is concentrated in the Eastern Panhandle, with growers serviced by programs developed and delivered from the West Virginia University Kearneysville Tree Fruit Research and Education Center. An effort is underway to expand the program to include other crops, such as soybeans.â€
At the end of the season, samples are taken from the crop of each block to determine if the IPM program was successful or not. According to Dr. Hogmire, the measure of success will be the growerâ€™s ability to maintain or improve fruit quality and/or yield profitability while implementing the components of their IPM plan. A summary analysis will be used to refine the program to make improvements for the following year.