Coopers Farm Practice; Pest Prevention
What is considered a “Pest” to farmers? Most people will automatically assume BUGS, but it is a much broader term. A pest is anything, legitimately anything, that negatively affects our crops, and Pest Control is how we solve these problems.
Ex. Of Pests
Neighbourhood snowmobilers who rip up wintering strawberry fields…
So, now that we know what a true pest is, how do we solve the problems that they create?
Here at Cooper’s we work on prevention, creating the best environments for our crops instead of constantly treating their problems. Cooper’s CSA Farm participates in a provincial wide practice called “Integrated Pest Management”. IPM is a farming practice that integrates cultural, biological, and conservation practices with modern technology to produce safe, environmentally sound food. Basically, what that means is that we use a wide variety of strategies (like crop rotation, beneficial insects, crop scouts etc...) to reduce chemical use and measure for actual pest threat. It is not unusual for conventional and larger organic farms to spray excessive amounts of preventative sprays - for an IPM farm this practice is eliminated through the careful monitoring of our produce. This leads to healthier soil & healthier plants. Pesticides are only applied as a last resort.
So yes, at the start of every week we send our crop scout out to see what’s going on. We grow over 60+ varieties of fruits and vegetables so she has her work cut out for her. She walks up and down the rows looking at everything to with plants;
Are they covered in bugs, are these good or bad bugs?
Are the plants surrounded by weeds, are they being choked out by them and not growing?
How has the weather been affecting these plants? Too much rain causes very bad diseases.
What is the temperature? Is it too hot, too cold? Is frost coming? (early and late in the season)
Wild life has been around, half of this row has been destroyed (huge produce cost loss).
These plants look tiny? The nutrient level in the soil might be off or they have been infected by bugs.
What do there roots look like? Are the healthy or are they brown and mushy?
There are hundreds of things to look for when monitoring plants… and some days it seems like everything is out to destroy them! Alas, we continue scouting on and when finished, our scout reports to Farmer Steve. They have a chat about what crops will need preventative measures and what crops will need action to be taken before a serious loss could happen.
**One thing to know is that conditions can change in minutes, for example, bugs can multiply by hundreds in a week, weeds and let down millions of their seeds in a day, there are bacteria & viruses that can kill acres of crops in a couple of days, & weather can dry out or drown your crops. It’s a battle we will never win, but we can keep it under control & roll with the punches.
Action is taken when we have decided that there is, for example, too many weeds or too many bugs and the crop is now in danger. We will then use pesticides or herbicides. As mentioned before, this is a last resort as we try our best use preventative measures!
Some Examples of how we work with Pest Prevention;
Weeding -We have machines that hook up to the tractor that clean up the weeds.
Hand weeding-When crops are too small or delicate to have machines running through.
Tilling The Land-Working the soil to disrupt weed roots and insects.
High Tunnels- Plastic tunnels that cover tender crops and protect them from weather elements and wild life.
Biodegradable Plastic Mulch- This black tarp under neath the plants keep the warmth in, the weeds low, and bugs don't like crawling on it. So it's a triple threat of prevention!
Bird Sirens- Loud noises that keep birds away from our cherry trees.
Crop Rotation- Every crop has different effects, both positive & negative, on the land. We rotate them every year so that we can keep the soil healthy.
Beneficial Bugs- There are many bugs that will prey on the really bad bugs that wipe out crops. That is another reason why we don’t vigorously use pesticides, we want to keep the good bugs. Ex are spiders, bees & lady bugs.
Fencing-Keep the wild life away from crops.
Cover Crops- This is a method to work against erosion (soil being blown or washed away by heavy rains and winds.)
Natural Fertilizer-We have many livestock such as pigs, beef cattle, chickens and turkeys. Each animal manure has different minerals that will give back to the soil.
Humans-We start with the “NO TRESSPASSING” signs and hope that the message gets across… What’s that saying about unintelligent people? ”You can’t fix…”
In summary, pest control in incredibly hard (we have other choice words about how hard it is, but we will remain calm). Our goal is to contiguously keep up with pests so that our crops & soil remain healthy, and that we only have to treat when necessary.
Hope this gives a little “Farm For Thought”on how we utilize Pest Prevention to keep our crops growing healthy all year long.