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Striving for sustainability

By Staff | May 21, 2010

-Farm News photo by Larry Kershner A tractor rolls Tuesday among some of the 20 apple varieties at Community Orchard delivering a pesticide and fungicide mix. Sustainability projects have helped owner Greg Baedke to cut his spraying routines by one-half during an entire growing season.The air was still and the cloud settled onto the trees without drifting.

Even with 40 years experience of managing his rural Fort Dodge apple business – Community Orchard – owner Greg Baedke says he’s still learning new things.

Those new lessons are coming with assistance of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Iowa State University, who routinely work with Baedke, plus other Iowa orchard owners, seeking ways of being profitable, while having a minimum impact on the environment.

Recently Baedke and others have been developing systems that the ag industry calls Integrated Pest Management, finding ways in which they can reduce the number of times trees must be sprayed for insects and disease.

Over the past few years, ISU sent graduate students to set up weather alert monitors that helped to take some of the guesswork out of when Baedke should spray for pests and diseases. The 2009 result, Baedke said, allowed him to spray three times fewer than previous years, and still harvest a healthy crop of 20 varieties of apples for retail sale at his store. Roughly 90 percent of all his apples are sold to local consumers.

It’s unfortunate, Baedke said, that spraying is necessary. Each year his trees are under assault from a vast array of insects and fungi, each of them out to rob him of his fruit or vitality of his trees.

-Farm News photo by Larry Kershner Greg Baedke, owner of Community Orchard in rural Fort Dodge, scouts through his trees on a weekly basis, looking for what pest or disease is threatening his apple crop. He said it's a never-ending battle during the growing season.

For example, one year his grove was infested with fire blight inoculum, which entered the orchard 20 to 30 days after the blooms came out. The spores rested on the leaves to grow and eventually made their destructive presence felt, killing 600 of his young honey crisp apple trees. “They didn’t have enough wood to survive it,” Baedke said. “And honey crisp is an expensive tree to plant.”

To counter the spores in subsequent years, Baedke said he learned to employ a copper sulfate spray early in the spring to kill over-wintering bacteria.

Since then he’s found that another spray, Agrimycin, acts as an antibiotic to help the tree fight off bacteria.

Now, Baedke said, he has very little trouble with fire blight.

Weather alert system

Mark Gleason, an ISU plant pathologist, who specializes in the epidemiology of fruit and vegetable diseases, has help to develop a weather alert system for Iowa apple orchards. It’s not, however, to tell them it’s going to rain or if the weather will be warm. This system will help orchard owners, like Baedke, to know when atmospheric conditions are right for spraying, or whether to hold off.

As an example, Baedke said that two common summertime apple diseases sooty blotch and flyspeck can get away from orchard owners if the weather remains wet and cool after a rain. Those conditions are perfect for fungi growth.

Following what he calls the first cover of spray, the second cover should be applied after 175 hours of wetness at an average of 70 degrees. However, orchard owners have a lot on their mind and tracking 175 hours can be a daunting task. So the weather alert system makes it easy for an owner to call an ISU number and get the update for his region of the state.

“These guys are great,” Gleason said of the orchard owners. “They’re growing apples and making cider, but they aren’t weathermen.

“We’re the meteorologists for the orchards.”

In past years, orchards might be forced to spray because conditions were deemed “close enough” to spray to be safe. But with the weather alert system, Gleason said, there is less guessing. The system tracks the weather conditions and will notify the owners when, or if, spraying is recommended. These monitors are established in a half-dozen Iowa locations, because conditions in Ames, aren’t necessarily the same in Fort Dodge.

As a result, Baedke said he eliminated three sprayings during 2009. “I saved $800 to $1,000 each time in chemical costs,” he said, “plus less labor and fuel costs.”

Insects

Managing insect infestations is a different kind of management, Baedke said. “There are too many to try to control. To combat the aphids, which arrive just as buds are breaking out; or mites, which show up as blooms begin to pop; or the aggressive codling moth, which has two and three generations of young in a single growing season, he sprays every other week for all of them.

However, he employs other pest control measures including pheromone traps, which is used to confuse the codling moths, luring them into the traps to keep them from reproducing.

The right thing to do

And it’s not only for the money savings, Baedke said.”It’s the right thing to do. I eat apples all the time and I don’t want to hurt myself.

“There’s no use spraying if it’s not needed.”

He said in the early years, he sprayed insecticide and fungicides every week. Now that’s been reduced to every other week.

“We’ve cut the amount in half,” Baedke said with a measure of pride. “Even though chemicals cost more now than before.” His chemical costs are higher than years ago, but it’s still less than if he were spraying weekly.

Other techniques have reduced the time spent in spraying the orchard from 12 to 14 hours to 9 to 10 hours.

Gleason said the aim of the sustainability projects is to fund measures that work and are simple to employ.

“If they aren’t convenient, no one will use them,” Gleason added.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453, or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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