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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Blueberry Meeting Scheduled for 12/4

An information meeting for blueberry growers, extension agents, and other interested parties will be held at 10am on Friday, December 4th at the Rowan Country Store & Grill in Ivanhoe, NC (16846 NC Hwy 210).

At this meeting, we will discuss:
  • Blueberry maggot management under quarantine protocols
  • NCDA & CS quarantine regulations
  • Spotted wing drosophila monitoring in blueberries
  • Just added: blueberry bud mite management--new regulatory questions
NCDA & CS regulators, NC cooperative extension agents, and NCSU specialists will be present to lead discussion and answer questions.

Contact Hannah (, 919-513-4344) for additional information.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Southeastern Strawberry Expo - A busy 3 days

The 2009 Southeastern Strawberry Expo wrapped up Tuesday. The meeting fostered lots of great conversation and research ideas. I always enjoy seeing growers who I have not encountered over the summer, including John Vollmer, who's farm we visited Sunday afternoon.

John and his family have been growing strawberries and other crops organically for 7 years, and come March 2010, his entire farm will be certified organic. John chose organic production to address a market need and has actively sought information on how optimize this system for his farm. This has lead John to cooperate with several extension specialists, including me. On Sunday, I shared some of the results for work we conducted on organic mite management in 2009 as well as some of the system-wide approaches to minimizing spider mites in organic strawberries.

John also detailed some of his other production practices and showed off a thriving winter cover crop of oats and red clover. Finding organically certified strawberry plugs has been a major challenge in recent years. This year, weather added another layer of difficultly. The California nurseries that John works with were flooded in late summer, resulting in a total loss of his intended plants. After much scrambling, John made the switch to cut off plants for his entire farm. Their first field leaves are just coming in, and they are smaller than John would like for this time of year, but they appear otherwise healthy.

On Monday, the NC Strawberry Association recognized its outstanding grower of 2009, Lee Berry (could you pick a better name?) of the Berry Patch. Lee shared his marketing strategy, which relies in no small part on his store, which he has dubbed the "world's largest strawberry". According to Lee, his only competition has been from "some folks in Iowa". Well, being that much of my extended family is from Strawberry Point, I am pretty sure I know where he's talking about! Lee's strawberry wins, hands down, despite the mid Western fondness for all things fiberglass.

Honored for their service to the industry were the NC Plant Disease & Insect Clinic at NCSU and a truly unsung hero of the NCSU strawberry horticulture program, technician Rocco Schiavone. I know I would have been lost without his advice many, many times.

My session on when not to treat strawberries is available in pdf form by request as are additional handouts. The 2010 Southern Region Stawberry IPM Guide will be online in January.

Slate rates fruits and veggies

Uniform, public information on agricultural production practices is limited, but even given that limited data, this Slate article has some large holes. Chief among them, California production practices for the fruits and veggies mentioned is often very different than those in other states. Pest pressure also differ greatly between California and the rest of the US--NC small fruit production certainly relies more on fungicides than CA production does. That said, the question of sustainability is trickling down from animal agriculture to commerical horticulture, and growers should be prepared to explain the reasons for their production practices.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

SWD Climate model and OSU work group

The map above is from a report complied by Martin Damus of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and hosted on the website for the Oregon spotted wing drosophila workgroup. It illustrates the areas with temperature suitable for spotted wing drosophila survival. The methods used to develop this map are summarized in the report and rely heavily on data from the fly's native range, but it is a striking illustration that the eastern US is potentially at greater risk that the west. This greater potential risk has not necessarily translated to greater emphasis on this on preventing and/or detecting this pest. I was impressed with the steps taken by the Oregon group and will be following their activities over the winter.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Aphids in tunnel berries

This is just a short note to mention that aphids have popped up in tunnel strawberries at one of the research stations we work on. They haven't been problematic in our plots, and it takes a lot of aphids per plant (10 per newly expanded leaf on average as a rule). Aphids are, however, one of the pests that will likely be more problematic in tunnels than in the field. There are several conventional and organic options for aphid management when they do exceed threshold levels, but the strategy used for each will be different--early and often is the mantra for organic aphid materials, while conventional materials can and should be used much less frequently.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NC Entomological Society Banquet Friday

Time is running out to preregister for the NC Entomological Society banquet. Early registration is over, but you can still attend. Find forms and details at the NC Entomological Society website.

NC Strawberry Expo: 6 Days and Counting!

The NC Strawberry Expo is just 1 week away! I have several sessions at the Expo. Sunday, I will be participating in Barclay Poling's "Months of Money" workshop. We'll be breaking down the choices that strawberry farmers make each month of the year and how these choices add up to make or cost growers money. Sunday afternoon, we will visit John Vollmer's strawberry farm where I'll discuss work on organic mite management (both miticides and biological control) we conducted with John last spring. John is a fantastic cooperator and a wealth of information. This tour will include discussions of the entire process of organic strawberry growing, which has its own unique challenges.

On Monday afternoon, I will spend an hour discussing insect management in strawberries. This session, called "When NOT to spray", will focus on the use of sampling and thresholds in strawberries as well as address insects that growers are concerned about but do not typically injure NC strawberries (Lygus bugs are a prime example). Because the decision NOT to treat is usually much more fraught than the decision to spray, I will try to give growers tools to let them sleep better at night after not firing up the tractor. Look for an Expo wrap up early next week.

My least favorite argument against GMOs

My colleague, Yasmin Cardoza, just forwarded a link to an NPR story about a Penn State researcher's work on the consequences of gene drift from GMO crop plants. The research is well thought out and certainly work that should continue, but that's not the point of this post. I was drawn more to comments section at the NPR website which were full of the typically polarized statements that go along with the GMO discussion. I am always amazed when I read comments about how "farmers can't save GMO seeds". Well, no, but most farmers cannot or do not save seeds as is...seeds (0r reproductive parts housing them) are what farmers sell, saving them isn't the point, selling them is. The harvested part of corn, watermelon, apples, cotton, and most of the other crops we grow are or contain the seeds. Even if farmers wanted to save their own seed to avoid buying it, weather in many of areas of the country render this impossible. There is a reason why our seeds come from California's central valley and southern Arizona. They have the longest field seasons, which allow plants to complete their entire life cycle, unlike most agricultural systems.

None of this is to imply that I am wildly in favor of GMO crops. My personal opinion is complicated, but simply stated, I think GMOs make sense in some situations and not in others and that the risk they raise in terms of gene flow should be weighed against other benefits to the systems (reduced pesticide use, etc). When I have the choice, I buy food from small, local growers and prefer them to mass market options. However, I don't do this to avoid GMOs. There are many well reasoned arguments against (and for) GMOs, and I dislike when misinformation clouds and interesting discussion.