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Georgia Organics IPM Field Day at Crystal Organics

Georgia Organics IPM Field Day at Crystal Organics

In late-June, the Georgia Organics Farmer Services team and Crystal Organic Farm hosted an impressive Farmer Field Day focused on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for organic growers.

Over 50 farmers, gardeners, staff members, researchers, and industry personnel met at Crystal Organic Farm in Newborn, GA, to tour the farm, ask questions and listen to a few presentations.  Georgia Organics invited us to present, along with two researchers from the University of Georgia - Dr. Jason Schmidt from the Entomology department, and Dr. Henry Sintim from the Crop & Soil Sciences department.     

After some brief introductions, the group began a walking tour of the farm, where farmers Nicolas Donck and Jeni Jarrard-Donck discussed their farm’s history and many of their practices. It quickly became evident that much of what Nicolas and Jeni do is directly related to foundational IPM - specifically preventative, cultural and physical control of insect pests and plant diseases. It’s no coincidence that these farmers, with more than 40 years of collective experience at this location, have worked in many elegant solutions to most of the perennial challenges they are likely to face on their farm.

Before we get into the details of the farm tour, I invite readers not familiar with “IPM” to review our presentation from this field day, which will walk you through the basics of what IPM is all about, and how farmers can begin implementing IPM strategies appropriate for their farms.

Some evident examples of sound IPM principles and practices at work on Crystal Organic Farm  include:

  • Protected culture (A.K.A. “protected cultivation” or “protective culture”) - in this case, the use of high tunnels. About 20% of Crystal Organic’s acreage is in high tunnels. High tunnels extend the growing season and keep rain and heavy dew off of the crops, limiting fungal and bacterial disease pressures.
  • Solarization - by tarping beds with clear plastic for a period of time prior to planting, Nicolas and Jeni eliminate many weeds that may otherwise compete with their crops for nutrients or water, or act as hosts for other pests.
  • Row and plant spacing - planting each crop at a specific and appropriate density to allow for adequate air-flow between the plants cuts down on disease pressure. Over time, Nicolas and Jeni have determined that in their tunnels they can plant peppers at two rows per bed, and that they should limit tomatoes to one row per bed.
  • Good record keeping - knowing what happened with a crop, or in a given field in prior seasons means knowing what kind of adjustments to make for the next season. Watching for and recording patterns as they emerge can help inform all kinds of future decisions, including the timing and location of plantings, and when and how to treat for a pest/disease or apply a fertilizer.

  • Resistant plant genetics - planting crop types or varieties that are not susceptible to pest or disease damage means not having to worry about pest and disease damage! Crystal Organic Farm grows many types of herbs that are not prone to pest or disease pressures and they strategically plant crops that deer do not like to eat in certain parts of the farm.
  • Crop rotation - rotating crop types can help break a pest or disease life cycle by eliminating the presence of a host in a given location. After harvesting is complete, Nicolas and Jeni will solarize beds, and then allow for a short fallow period before planting another, unrelated cover or cash crop.
  • Mulching - many of the fields and beds at Crystal Organics were mulched with hay or straw or plastic mulch. Mulching can preserve soil moisture and reduce stress on plants while also preventing weeds from competing with crops. 
  • Transplanting - Setting larger plants into beds or fields means giving them a competitive advantage against weeds. Larger plants may also tolerate some pests damage and can often outgrow early season issues.

  • Hand collection - As tedious as it may sound, hand collecting (or vacuuming up) large insect pests like Japanese Beetles is a perfectly viable solution in some situations. Japanese Beetles are difficult to kill with organic pesticides but Nicolas and Jeni achieve control by hand collecting them.
  • Fencing - Crystal Organic Farm is surrounded by deer fencing.  It’s not always 100% effective, but fencing keeps most deer from eating valuable crops.  
  • Tolerance and value judgments - Knowing which pests or diseases are likely to remain as minor issues rather than escalate into potential crop failures takes experience. We saw several examples of minor pest or disease issues while touring the farm, but we saw no major outbreaks or situations that seemed likely to threaten a crop before its potential had been realized. Nicolas and Jeni are realistic about how much to expect from a given planting, and they know the value of their crops and when it’s time to walk away.

If all of these practices sound a lot like “good farming”, that’s because they are. Nicolas and Jeni are expert farmers, as their focus on foundational IPM strategies shows. What also shows is their commitment to learning and getting better. We are so thankful to Nicolas and Jeni for welcoming us on their farm, and to Georgia Organics for bringing so many people together for this excellent learning opportunity.

If you are a Georgia Organics member you receive a 7% off discount on your purchase with us. Please give us a call and mention that you are a Georgia Organics member to find out more (800)540-9181

Photo credit: Alena Ivakhnenko, Ain Chike, Lauren Cox, Lydia Hsu, and Meg Darnell

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