NYS IPM 2005
Excellence-in-IPM Award Winners:
Land-grant IPM research is windfall for New York apple grower
Apple grower Tré Green ("Tré," because he's the third Donald F. Green in a row to farm his land) is far from New York's apple belt and Cornell University. But that doesn't stop him from being one of the industry's top cooperators when it comes to innovative land-grant inspired, on-farm IPM research.
Green's location on Lake Champlain, hard by the Canadian border (Montréal is the nearest big city), means that some insect and disease pests that plague other growers stay clear of him. But the weather—30 below Fahrenheit in January is routine—also limits what he can grow on 800-acre Chazy Orchards.
Green helped pioneer an IPM mite-control method that has saved him tens of thousands of dollars in dealing with red mites, leaf-feeders that can reduce yields by 10 to 25 percent.
"Miticides are expensive," Green says. "I pay a couple dollars more per acre for soft pesticides that are easy on predatory mites, but I save about $50 per acre in blocks where the predators have taken hold." Green anticipates savings exceeding $20,000 per year at today's prices once he has established these natural enemies throughout the entire farm.
Green counts tenaciousness as a mark of an innovator, and his experience with red mites is a case in point. "I wasn't impressed when I first tried the method," he says. "But darned if they hadn't multiplied enough by the next year to be already making a dent in my spray bill."
These beneficials proved their value in ease of establishment, too. In mid- to late June, Green prunes branches containing predatory mites from blocks where they're well established and ties them to branches in blocks where they aren't. The mites, ever mindful of a good meal, do the rest.
"They're very easy to move," Green says. "Everyone should attempt it." He notes that some broad spectrum insecticides such as pyrethroids kill predators along with the pests these insecticides are meant to control, but that most of the newer selective insecticides spare predators while working well on pests such as leafrollers, maggots, and curculios.
At the core of innovation, Green believes, is simply the willingness to work with land-grant scientists and educators. "Volunteering to run trials puts you on the cutting edge of IPM research," Green says, convinced that the time growers spend with researchers is more than compensated by the knowledge they gain. "Any time Cornell wants cooperators, I jump on it. If you aren't out front, you can get left behind."
"Tré freely offers his orchards whenever Cornell's tree fruit group puts out a call," says Cornell entomologist Dr. Art Agnello, noting that Green is a "faithful participant" at all Cornell short courses and in-depth schools, hours away from Chazy. "He is a true life-long student of all aspects of apple growing and doesn't shy away from experimenting in areas that may make others apprehensive."
"Added to his stature as one of New York's most respected large-scale growers is our being able to count on such a keystone grower as a model IPM practitioner," Agnello says.
Green volunteered for a recent project that developed a test for apple scab resistance to relatively soft eradication fungicides. The results—that scab in his orchard was resistant to two major classes of fungicides on the market—amazed him and Cornell plant pathologist Dr. Wolfram Koeller, who developed the test.
"I was the poster boy for IPM tactics—minimal use, least-risk materials, and careful pesticide rotations," Green says. "We never expected to find fungicide resistance in Chazy Orchards. Do we have a particularly virulent strain of scab here? We just don't know." The test was invaluable, he says, for alerting him to a problem that could have cost tens of thousands of dollars in wasted sprays and unmarketable fruit.
Now Green watches the weather with yet greater care. Every morning at 4 a.m., his portable weather station uploads 24 hours worth of data to an IPM forecasting network that benefits not only apple growers but grape and vegetable farmers as well. When high, dry winds sweep across Lake Champlain, he holds off on preventive fungicides. When rain-heavy clouds roll in, he thinks about suiting up.
The tactic that Green relies on most, never failing him in 20 years under every condition, is the classic IPM prescription: scout first, spray later. "In the old days, you'd cover your orchard in poison," he says. But now scouting to determine if pest levels have reached treatment thresholds informs growers whether or not they need spray—as well as what they are spraying for. It's easier to tailor the treatment to the pest when you know what it is.
"As a plant pathologist, I'm humbled by the array of insect pests that impact apple production," says Dr. Julie Carroll, fruit IPM coordinator for the New York State IPM Program. "I'm impressed by Tré's determination to monitor for all of them."
"Every spray I don't apply saves me thousands of dollars," Green explains, noting that Chazy Orchards has one of the lowest per-acre spray costs among orchards in the state. "I save at least fifteen to twenty thousand dollars each year in sprays."
Green and his foreman check pheromone-scented traps every week, ramping up to every other day "if we catch something. If there's a flush, we want to know," Green says.
Another recent IPM-based project had Green, along with 29 other growers across New York, comparing plots using grower standard treatments with reduced-risk insecticides and pheromone ties. In every case all treatments worked equally well.
"For four years, Tré helped us test reduced-risk insecticides," says Cornell entomologist Dr. Harvey Reissig. "He was willing to test new monitoring and application techniques even though this required considerable labor to change his normal practices." Reissig points out that Green is always willing to share what he learns through his collaborations with apple growers throughout the state.
"The materials we tested weren't that much more expensive," Green says. But the labor involved in placing the ties makes using them harder to justify. "It's a catch-22," Green says, noting that the more widely the newer soft pesticides are used, the less expensive they become—but until prices come down, the less likely it is that growers will use them.
Green, who ships about a third of his McIntosh crop to Great Britain, is EUREPGAP-certified. "During my first audit I found that I was already doing ninety-nine percent of what EUREPGAP requires, but I wasn't documenting it. They'd ask, do you do this? and I'd say, well, yes. And they'd say, prove it, and I'd say, well—ask my foreman! There was just a lot of stuff we didn't write down."
While the level of detail required by EUREPGAP takes time, Green credits it with making him more aware. "Sometimes you go with your gut feeling, but when you put the process down on paper it's not what you thought it was." The EUREPGAP standards provide a checklist that helps him avoid inadvertently missing an important point.
"It's a tool that keeps us thorough. And thoroughness is key—it's how we save money," says Green. He uses Cornell Cooperative Extension's EUREPGAP Audit Workbook and New York IPM's Trac© software as his guides to the process, saving hours of time.
IPM and apple growers have much to offer each other, Green believes. Growers have the testing ground for trials—potentially thousands of acres over a wide geographic range and spanning scores of microclimates and soil types.
And IPM? "It offers huge savings, and it's so much better for the environment," Green says.
Green won an "Excellence in IPM Award" from the New York State IPM Program in 2005. "Tré is an avid practitioner of IPM," says Carroll. "Without IPM pioneers like Tré, it wouldn't be possible to do the research we need to do. It was a real pleasure to recognize him for everything he's done."