On-Farm Training and Participatory Learning: Biologically-based IPM an sustainable Farming Practices for Amish and Mennonite Vegetable Growers

Final Report for LNE08-276

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $143,991.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Cathy Thomas
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
Co-Leaders:
Wade Esbenshade
PA Dept. of Ag
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Project Information

Summary:

Over the four years of this project, 40 Amish and conservative Mennonite vegetable growers in Lancaster County, PA were involved in training and participatory learning on biologically-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM), soil quality, and sustainable vegetable production. These 40 participating growers implemented biologically-based IPM and sustainable production methods on over 300 acres of vegetables. Of the 40 participating growers, 100% practiced crop rotation, scouted fields for pests, and used biological controls, 89% used cover crops and only reduced-risk pesticides, and 78% based their fertilizer applications only on soil test results at the end of the project. A manual outlining IPM techniques and sustainable practices for vegetable production was developed which was refined from experiences during the project.

Introduction:

For Pennsylvania’s vegetable farmers, controlling pests in their vegetable crops often equates to using conventional, broad spectrum pesticides in substantial quantities. When this project began, a 2006 national survey on agricultural chemical usage showed that Pennsylvania vegetable farmers applied 168,000 lbs. of pesticides to pumpkins, snap beans, and sweet corn, with the restricted-use insecticides endosulfan and methomyl being in the top ten products used (NASS, USDA, 2007). Additionally, the adoption of IPM techniques in PA vegetable production has been limited. Only 27% of PA farms are using deliberate scouting activities (a key aspect of biologically-based IPM), only 34% are using scouting to make decisions and a mere 1% of PA vegetable farms are using beneficial organisms in their pest control practices (NASS USDA 2007). Practices related to soil conservation and nutrient building are also limited on PA vegetable farms.

Access to training on IPM, soil quality and sustainable vegetable production practices is limited in Lancaster County because of the large concentration of farms (6000 plus) and limitations of extension education resources due to funding and personnel reduction. Amish and Mennonite farmers are further limited by their religious-based transportation and technology restrictions. These farmers often turn to local chemical company representatives making on-farm visits for pest control and fertility advice. These representatives are inclined to recommend excessive, expensive chemical solutions that result in product sales, while IPM and sustainable options are rarely shared. Also, the abundant supply of animal manures in Lancaster County are often not taken into account, which can lead to the over application of fertilizers, leading to excess nutrients being washed into waterways and being leached into groundwater.

The goal of this project was to offer educational opportunities on IPM and sustainable soil building techniques to the Amish and Mennonite vegetable growers of Lancaster County. To facilitate greater adoption of these techniques, the training was carried out through on-farm, personal field training sessions with an IPM/sustainable agriculture specialist. Through these visits, growers learned pest identification, pest life cycles, scouting/record keeping techniques, proper introduction of biological control and use of compatible reduced risk pesticides. Soil testing, crop rotation and proper fertility were also addressed during these sessions, resulting in more natural and sustainable farm environments.

Information from these interactions has been compiled and included in the Vegetable IPM training manual and also incorporated in educational programs. Grower confidence in sustainable methods has increased due to the regular interactions with the IPM specialist and attendance at educational workshops, leading to the growers’ independent use of the sustainable methods. This on-farm, customized participatory approach facilitated the adaptation and adoption of biologically-based IPM, soil quality, and sustainable agriculture principles.

Performance Target:

Milestone 1: Project team will develop a manual outlining IPM techniques and sustainable practices for vegetable production, which will be refined from experiences during the project.
– A manual has been written and is currently in the editing stage and will be going to press at Pennsylvania State University in 2013. It will be available to the public in the fall of 2013.The manual includes insect pest fact sheets, biological control fact sheets, vegetable family information, photo identification keys of pests and biocontrols, and participating grower case studies.

Milestone 2: Each winter of the three-year project, a new group of 15 vegetable growers will attend a meeting to learn about the project and express their level of interest and commitment. Of these 15 growers, 12 to 14 will choose to participate that year.
– 13-14 new growers were selected each year to participate in the program, totaling 40 growers for the duration of the project.

Milestone 3: Participants will supply past pesticide and farm management records so that project investigators/trainers can determine participant baseline usage of IPM and sustainable practices.
– Baseline usage of IPM and sustainable practices was determined through pesticide records and in person interviews with all participants.

Milestone 4: Each year, all participants will host a weekly visit by an IPM/sustainable agriculture specialist throughout the growing season (greenhouse transplant production to field harvest), resulting in 10 participants learning and adopting new IPM and sustainable practices.
– Each year, all 13-14 participants hosted weekly visits by IPM/sustainable agriculture specialist throughout the growing season. All 13-14 participants adopted at least one new IPM and sustainable practice.

Milestone 5: Each year, 12 participants will learn to take soil samples for submission to an analytical lab and learn to read and interpret the test results.
– Participants that did not already know how to take soil samples and interpret test results were taught how to do so.

Milestone 6: Of the 40 participating vegetable farms, 35 will make fertilization decisions based on soil testing, thus reducing nutrient loading and the use of synthetic fertilizers.
– At the end of the project, 36 of the 40 participants made fertilization decisions based on soil testing. The remaining 4 participants based fertilization decisions on soil testing at least some of the time.

Milestone 7: Each year, 75 vegetable producers will attend an all-day educational workshop to learn about this project, vegetable IPM, sustainable production, and soil quality. In addition, 10 project participants will attend two half-day mini-workshops held during each growing season to address the current situation in the field and to further their IPM/sustainable agriculture knowledge and practice (the goal is behavior change).
– We realized throughout the project that it is extremely difficult to schedule meetings during the growing season. Most growers are too busy or are not willing to pay for drivers (Amish and conservative Mennonites need to hire van or car drivers to travel longer distances) to attend a meeting during the growing season. However, two seminars on biologically based IPM and the relationship between soil health and pest management were presented by Wade Esbenshade at Pennsylvania Certified Organic’s annual meeting in December of 2008 and a local grower’s meeting in March of 2009 in New Holland, PA. Another informational presentation giving an overview of this and other similar projects the PA IPM Program is currently working on was given at the Entomological Society of Pennsylvania’s annual meeting in October of 2009. Also in 2009 an all-day workshop was developed and delivered for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s annual conference in February looking at the use of IPM and biological controls to manage vegetable pests. In 2010, a seminar on biologically based IPM and the relationship between soil health and pest management was presented by Wade Esbenshade at two local grower’s meetings in January and February of in New Holland, PA. In 2011, a half day workshop on biologically based IPM and the relationship between soil health and pest management was presented by Wade Esbenshade and Cathy Thomas at a local grower’s meetings on January 17 in New Holland, PA. Another workshop was presented at a local grower’s on February 23 in Southern York County, PA. There were 62 and 85 growers at these two meetings, respectively. A seminar on biological control of vegetable pests was presented by Cathy Thomas at the Sunnyburn Produce Auction meeting in January 2012. There were 250 growers in attendance.

Performance Target: Of the 40 participating vegetable farms, 35 will make fertilization decisions based on soil testing, thus reducing nutrient loading and the use of synthetic fertilizers; 30 will reduce the total pounds per acre of active ingredients of traditional pesticides by 50% through the utilization of learned Integrated Pest Management skills; as well as adopt at least two of the following sustainable practices: crop rotation, soil-building (incorporation of cover crops, green manures), reduction of deep tillage, and crop diversification.
– All 40 participating vegetable farms reduced traditional pesticide usage by 50% through the utilization of learned Integrated Pest Management skills, based fertilizer decisions on testing at least some of the time and adopted at least two of the following sustainable practices: crop rotation, soil-building (incorporation of cover crops, green manures), reduction of deep tillage, and crop diversification.

Research

Materials and methods:

The project was initially advertised through Cooperative Extension and produce auction channels and because of this, 15 growers expressed their interest and desire to change their current conventional production practices to those based on biologically-based IPM and sustainable methods. Each winter of the three-year project, a new group of about 15 interested growers attended a meeting to learn about the project. Growers provided information regarding their production practices to Cathy Thomas, IPM and Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator for Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and Wade Esbenshade, IPM and Sustainable Agriculture Specialist from The Pennsylvania State University. Through interviews, potential participants learned about the program details, responsibilities and services. Ultimately, 13-14 growers committed to making long-term changes in their pest control and production practices.

Through this interview process and past pesticide and farm management records provided by each grower, participants provided baseline knowledge and usage of IPM and sustainable practices. Together, the participants and trainers used this information to create a customized educational program to locate and target specific problem areas identified by the specialist and the participant. This participatory process helped in the adaptation of the program to each individual farm and increased the likelihood of program adoption. Due to the complexity of implementing site-specific IPM and sustainable agriculture techniques, long term training took place at each farm. After an initial orientation meeting, the IPM specialist met weekly with each grower individually at their farm beginning at crop initiation in the greenhouse and ending at crop maturity in the field. In addition to these weekly visits, participants attended workshops during the winter. The PA Department of Agriculture and Penn State University personnel facilitated these educational workshops with topics based on participants needs.

During these educational workshops and weekly one-on-one training sessions, growers learned pest identification, pest life cycles, crop scouting, record keeping, crop rotation, sanitation, and use of cultural, mechanical, biological and reduced-risk pesticide controls. Crop scouting training included the use of pheromone traps on farms to monitor for pest presence and to assist in determining pest thresholds and timing of control tactics. For participants who chose to use biocontrol, training included lifecycles of biocontrol agents, timing of biocontrols in relation to pest lifecycles and pesticide compatibility with those biocontrols. This allowed for the reduction and replacement of traditional/high-risk pesticides.

In the area of nutrient conservation, participants learned about the fundamentals of dynamic soil quality, including soil organic matter, the soil food web, soil-based pest antagonism and the effects of agricultural practices on soil quality. Growers learned about soil sampling and the interpretation of soil test results in relation to soil quality and plant growth. Depending on the needs of individual participants, additional training topics included cover crop fundamentals, allowable soil amendments for certified organic production, transition to organic certified production, crop rotation, reduction of inversion tillage, nutrient cycles, erosion/compaction control, integration of livestock/cropping systems, composting/compost tea, and water management. To increase their resource libraries, participants received copies of Greenhouse IPM with an Emphasis on Biocontrols by C. Thomas; the Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management by B. Caldwell, E. Brown Rosen, E. Sideman, A. Shelton, and C. Smart; the Soil Biology Primer by the Soil and Water Conservation Society; Building Soils for Better Crops by Van Es and Magdoff and Managing Cover Crops Profitably, Sustainable Agriculture Network.

Concurrent with training activities, the project team also began developing a vegetable IPM and sustainable practices field manual to serve as a grower reference. This manual was written during the project to include case studies that can be used in future educational programs for growers and agricultural professionals. Editing of the manual was underway at the time of project completion. It is expected to go to printing in 2013 and will be available to the public in fall 2013. With the completion of this manual, all participants will receive a copy, which will also be available to freely download from the PA IPM website.

To promote the usage of IPM, sustainable vegetable production, and soil quality and increase the awareness of this program among other growers and agricultural professionals, an all-day workshop was conducted in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). This workshop included project participants, “expert” producers from outside of the program, and a variety of personnel from the PA Department of Agriculture and The Pennsylvania State University. The public learned of the results of this project through project reports and press releases to farm media, extension newsletters, and association newsletters. These reports focused on how project participants have changed their production practices.

Research results and discussion:

The initial phase of the project began with the selection of a group of growers who showed a strong interest and desire to change their current conventional production practices to ones based on biologically-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM), soil quality, and sustainable vegetable production. In the winter of 2008, Wade Esbenshade, sustainable agriculture and IPM specialist from Penn State University, spoke to local vegetable growers at two produce auction meetings in Eastern Lancaster County. From these meetings, a list of 13 cooperators was created during the late winter. A similar selection process was continued in 2009 and 2010 with 13-14 participants being selected each year. However, in the years following 2008, most growers were introduced to the program through word of mouth from past project participants. This was another sign of the success of the program and the importance it held to the participants that they would promote the program throughout their community.

Along with past pesticide records and other information gathered on participants’ current production practices, a survey was administered to the growers to assess their farming background, current pest control program, and perceptions of biologically-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM), soil quality, and sustainable agriculture. This information was used to determine participant baseline usage of IPM and sustainable practices.

Each year, beginning in March and ending at crop termination in the fall, Wade Esbenshade and Cathy Thomas made weekly on-farm visits to participating growers to teach growers pest-scouting techniques and identification, lifecycles of pests, and proper record keeping to monitor pest populations and determine pest thresholds. During these scouting visits, the lifecycles of biocontrol agents and the timing of biocontrol releases according to pest lifecycles and populations were also taught to growers. The usage and application timing of compatible pesticides was taught in order to form a complete pest management system.

Growers also learned the importance of soil health and fertility as it pertains to plant growth and the plant’s ability to resist or tolerate pest pressures. Through dialog between the educators and project participants, it was noted that only 44% of participants were regularly soil testing their fields. Participants that did not already know how to take soil samples and interpret test results were taught how to do so. At the end of the project, all growers understood how to soil test their fields and 36 of the 40 participants made fertilization decisions based on soil testing. The remaining 4 participants based fertilization decisions on soil testing at least some of the time.

Wade kept growers up to date on local pest trapping results performed on several participating farms as well as showed growers how to access the PA IPM pest monitoring information. Growers learned how to track local pest problems and use control methods only when thresholds had been reached. For most participants, this led to improved timing of pesticide applications and an overall reduction in pesticide usage. As growers reduced the pesticide load on their farms and in the environment, they also increased the profitability and, therefore, the sustainability of their farming operations. One grower noted that in past years he had spent approximately $2,000 on pesticides each year. This year he had spent less than $500 on pesticides and had relatively similar yields and quality compared to other years. He also noted that this was the best pepper crop he has had.

Growers reported numerous benefits to the program and the new techniques that they acquired. Growers learned about native beneficial organisms and how they can contribute to controlling pests. Information on identifying and conserving native beneficial insects was given to growers. Most growers had some previous knowledge that beneficial organisms existed, but many were amazed by the number and diversity of beneficial organisms that were found on their farms when high-risk pesticides were not used. In many instances, growers chose not to spray in order to allow the beneficial insects to control the pests. One participating grower mentioned, “This is the first time that I didn’t spray my cantaloupes in June and yet they still look great.”

In 2011, four growers released the parasitoid wasp, Trichogramma ostrinae, to control European corn borer in sweet corn. Two other growers released the parasitoid wasp, Pediobius foveolatus, to control Mexican bean beetle in snap beans. These growers were very pleased with the pest control they received from these beneficial insects and were able to reduce or eliminate all insecticide applications to control these pests.
One of the biggest challenges to the project was the collection and analysis of pesticide records. Many growers did not keep accurate and complete records before entering the program and only slightly improved during the program. Some growers also resisted sharing their past pesticide information due to a perceived fear of repercussions over improper records or usage. In many cases, general past pesticide usage information was gathered and compared to current usage. In general, before participants entered the program, 88% of growers either did not base pest control measures on crop scouting or rarely did so. Only 11% of participants did not apply pesticides on a regularly scheduled basis at least some of the time during the growing season. In contrast, by the end of the project, all growers based their pest control measures on scouting and only 22% of growers were still applying pesticides on a regular schedule. The significant increase in crop scouting and the subsequent reduction in regular pesticide applications is a direct result from the weekly visits from an IPM/sustainable agriculture specialist. In addition to the reduction in regular pesticide applications, 78% of participants rarely used reduced-risk pesticides before entering the program in contrast to all participants using reduced-risk pesticides often or all of the time by the end of the project.
A manual overviewing common vegetable pests and beneficial insects and outlining biologically-based IPM techniques and sustainable practices for vegetable production was developed. Grower input and first-hand experiences are incorporated into the manual. In addition to personnel from Penn State University, several participating growers are helping in the reviewing of this manual. The manual should be available to the public in the fall of 2013.
Throughout the project, we have realized that it is extremely difficult to schedule meetings during the growing season. Most growers are too busy or are not willing to pay for drivers (Amish and conservative Mennonites need to hire van or car drivers to travel longer distances) to attend a meeting during the growing season. However, educational workshops and meetings were held both locally and region-wide to facilitate further learning of growers and to promote this project. An all-day workshop was developed and delivered for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s annual conference in February 2009 looking at the use of IPM and biological controls to manage vegetable pests. Twenty growers from across the mid-Atlantic region attended this event.

Two other seminars on biologically based IPM and the relationship between soil health and pest management were presented by Wade Esbenshade at Pennsylvania Certified Organic’s annual meeting in December of 2008 and a local grower’s meeting in March of 2009 in New Holland, PA. Another informational presentation giving an overview of this and other similar projects the PA IPM Program is currently working on was given at the Entomological Society of Pennsylvania’s annual meeting in October of 2009. In 2010, a seminar on biologically based IPM and the relationship between soil health and pest management was presented by Wade Esbenshade at two local grower’s meetings in January and February in New Holland, PA. In 2011, a half day workshop on biologically based IPM and the relationship between soil health and pest management was presented by Wade Esbenshade and Cathy Thomas at a local grower’s meetings on January 17 in New Holland, PA. Another workshop was presented at a local grower’s farm on February 23 in Southern York County, PA. There were 62 and 85 growers at these two meetings, respectively. A seminar on biological control of vegetable pests was presented by Cathy Thomas at the York County Sunnyburn Produce Auction meeting in January 2012. There were 250 growers in attendance.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

To increase growers’ resource libraries, participants received copies of Greenhouse IPM with an Emphasis on Biocontrols by C. Thomas; the Resource Guide for Organic Insect and Disease Management by B. Caldwell, E. Brown Rosen, E. Sideman, A. Shelton, and C. Smart; the Soil Biology Primer by the Soil and Water Conservation Society; Building Soils for Better Crops by Van Es and Magdoff; and Managing Cover Crops Profitably, Sustainable Agriculture Network.
Growers were appreciative of these resources and many indicated that they would share them with other members of their community. Throughout the project growers continued to apply principles learned from these publications, especially for cover cropping and beneficial insects.

Scheduling of educational meetings was difficult during the grower season. Coupled with that is the transportation issue among the Amish and many Mennonite orders (Amish and conservative Mennonites need to hire van or car drivers to travel longer distances) to attend a meeting not in their immediate area. However, when meetings were close by the participants were eager to have the opportunity to attend.

Two seminars on biologically based IPM and the relationship between soil health and pest management were presented by Wade Esbenshade at Pennsylvania Certified Organic’s annual meeting in December of 2008 and a local grower’s meeting in March of 2009 in New Holland, PA.

In 2010, a seminar on biologically based IPM and the relationship between soil health and pest management was presented by Wade Esbenshade at two local grower’s meetings in January and February in New Holland, PA. In 2011, a half day workshop on biologically based IPM and the relationship between soil health and pest management was presented by Wade Esbenshade and Cathy Thomas at a local grower’s meetings on January 17 in New Holland, PA. Another workshop was presented at a local grower’s farm on February 23 in Southern York County, PA. There were 62 and 85 growers at these two meetings, respectively. A seminar on biological control of vegetable pests was presented by Cathy Thomas at the Sunnyburn Produce Auction meeting in January 2012. There were 250 growers in attendance. Educational workshops and meetings were held both locally and region-wide to facilitate further learning of growers and to promote this project.

In an effort to disseminate information from this project to a wider grower audience, an all-day workshop was developed and delivered for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s annual conference in February 2009 addressing the use of IPM and biological controls to manage vegetable pests. Twenty growers from across the mid-Atlantic region attended this event. For outreach to educators, another informational presentation giving an overview of this and other similar projects the PA IPM Program is currently working on was given at the Entomological Society of Pennsylvania’s annual meeting in October of 2009.

In efforts to reach beyond the state, the project team produced a manual for sustainable vegetable production which addresses common vegetable pests, beneficial insects and biologically-based IPM techniques. Grower input and first-hand experiences are incorporated into the manual. In addition to personnel from Penn State University, several participating growers are helping in the reviewing of this manual. The manual includes insect pest fact sheets, biological control fact sheets, vegetable family information, photo identification of keys pests and biocontrols, and participating grower case studies. The intended audience for this manual is commercial vegetable growers, however home gardeners may benefit from it as well. In addition to being promoted by the PA IPM Program/PA Department of Agriculture, it will also be promoted through Penn State Publications Department and the PA Vegetable Growers Association (PVGA). The manual should be available to the public in the fall of 2013.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The results of this project were gathered through grower surveys and personal interviews. These took place prior to their involvement and at the end of their involvement. With the anonymity of the survey, growers appeared more forthright about the status of their production practices; however, there was obvious reluctance in sharing pesticide application records. Their cautiousness may be related to their differences with the “English” (non Amish) culture. It was our hope that through this project some of this barrier would be dissolved through the development of one-on-one working relationships. Despite their reluctance with pesticide disclosure, the project team was still able to verify progress throughout the project.

Learning the basics of crop scouting appears to have made a major impact on pesticide application decisions. Prior to the project, 88% of growers either did not base pest control measures on crop scouting or rarely did so and only 11% of participants rarely applied pesticides on a regularly scheduled basis. By the end of the project, all growers based their pest control measures on scouting and only 22% of growers were still applying pesticides on a regular schedule. Additionally, 78% of participants rarely used reduced-risk pesticides before entering the program in contrast to all participants using reduced-risk pesticides often or all of the time by the end of the project.

Through these survey results and personal disclosure by the growers, the project team verified that the project surpassed the performance target of having 30 out of 40 growers seeing a 50% reduction of traditional pesticide use and adoption of two sustainable practices, and 35 out of 40 growers making fertilizer decisions based on soil tests. In fact, all 40 participants reached these goals. Despite not having access to all pesticide records, the relationships between trainer and participants were based on mutual respect and trust, therefore we believe the survey results were credible.

The immediate benefit of this project is that fewer pesticides and fewer fertilizers have been put into the farm environments of the participating farmers, which are adjacent to their homes and often operated by the youth in their families. This equates to reduced risk of exposure for family members, pets and livestock. The reduction of farm inputs leads to greater profitability for farm families and communities. Historically, local produce auctions do not differentiate between sustainably- grown produce and conventionally- grown produce, however, the increased national demand for these specialty products is changing the marketing of these products. The opening of this specialty niche allows the growers to sell produce at an increased profit. In the future, the increase in sustainably grown produce may prompt Lancaster County Auction officials to embrace these new markets. If the markets move in this direction, extension education efforts should also change to focus on dissemination of sustainable practices throughout Lancaster County and the entire state.

Economic Analysis

As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges to the project was the collection and analysis of pesticide and other records. Many growers did not keep accurate and complete records before entering the program and only slightly improved during the program. Many farmers in the Amish and Mennonite communities also do not feel comfortable sharing economic information. Using the data collected directly from growers and information acquired during the growing season, the following economic information was gathered.

On average, growers were able to reduce the number of pesticide applications on sweet corn by two or three without seeing an increase in crop damage. This resulted in a savings of approximately $35 per acre. However, in many cases, cheaper, high-risk pesticides were replaced by more expensive, reduced-risk and biological control measures. This resulted in a slight increase in control costs. Similar results were found in tomatoes, cantaloupes, and cucumbers. On average, participants sprayed their crops with insecticides three less times and fungicides two less times per growing period, which resulted in a savings of approximately $75 per acre. However, some of this savings was not realized due to the higher cost of reduced risk pesticides. Most growers felt that the environmental and personal health benefits of using reduced-risk and softer pesticides far outweighed the added costs of the products.

All growers reported equal to greater yields than in years prior to entering the project. Also, 32 participants stated that the quality of their crops improved, while the remaining four participants noted no change in quality. In many cases, pest problems were discovered earlier than normal due to scouting and, therefore less damage occurred and lower pest pressure meant fewer pesticides were needed. In many instances, native beneficial insects were allowed to control a pest which totally eliminated the need for any pesticide application. Some crop damage did occur in these situations, but the elimination of the pesticide costs was greater than the pest damage. It is difficult to quantify the economic benefit to crop quality improvement and, therefore no economic data was collected in this area.

Overall, growers were very satisfied with the economic benefits of the program with 36 of the participants reporting an improvement in the profitability of their farming operations. One grower noted that in past years he had spent approximately $2,000 on pesticides each year. This year he had spent less than $500 on pesticides and had relatively similar yields and quality compared to other years. Another grower noted that he did not spray his cantaloupes for insect control and had equal yield and fruit quality.

Farmer Adoption

It is clear that growers were searching for a change from conventional practices.

The time that busy growers with diverse family farm operations allotted to meeting with the specialist each week demonstrates their commitment to embracing sustainable practices. It is encouraging to note that the growers were finding success as the project progressed. For example, one grower noted that in past years he had spent approximately $2,000 on pesticides each year. This year he had spent less than $500 on pesticides and had relatively similar yields and quality compared to other years. He also noted that this was the best pepper crop he ever had.

Beyond meeting the performance target, growers took the extra step of conserving, and in some instances enhancing beneficial insect populations. Although most participants had some previous knowledge that beneficial organisms existed, many were amazed by the number and diversity of beneficial organisms that were found on their farms when high-risk pesticides were not used. In many instances, growers chose not to spray in order to allow the beneficial insects to control the pests. One participating grower mentioned, “This is the first time that I didn’t spray my cantaloupes in June and yet they still look great.” Some growers chose to completely eliminate pesticides and release biocontrols to control insect pests. Sweet corn growers had success with using Trichogramma ostriniae to control European corn borer in early sweet corn production. Another grower introduced Pediobius foveolatus, to control Mexican bean beetle in snap beans with success.

Because of the close knit nature of their community, adoption of these practices will most likely be disseminated throughout their community. Private Amish and Mennonite meetings are held throughout the growing season to discuss production issues and this is a venue where the project goals and results may be shared. Knowing that there are now resources available for growers interested in sustainable growing techniques increases the potential for adoption of these practices with Amish and Mennonite groups throughout the state and surrounding states.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Although participating growers were beginning to embrace the concept of conservation of naturally occurring beneficial insects, only a small percentage actually enhanced the native population of beneficial insects with the controlled introduction of biocontrols. Further work could be done to help growers adopt the practice of biological control introduction and to expand the range of biocontrol organisms currently in use. Also, more work could be done in PA to encourage the use of cover cropping for soil health and weed control in vegetable production. This was a new concept for some Lancaster County growers and they could benefit from season-long consultation with a sustainable agriculture specialist on selection/combination of cover crop species, scheduling of plantings and methods of transitioning crops. Lastly, methods to educate the general public and the buyers at local produce auctions on the benefits of purchasing IPM and sustainably grown vegetables are needed. This would increase the demand for these specialized products and therefore increase the economic sustainability of these farming operations.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.