Final Report for LS99-098

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $19,100.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Gary Cline
Kentucky State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

Small, limited-resource farmers often find it difficult to compete in today’s economy as evidenced by the decline in small farms over the past 50 years. Organic vegetable farming is expanding and may be an ideal enterprise for limited-resource farmers. The goal of this planning project was to develop a research proposal that would potentially improve organic methods of vegetable production. This would stimulate the growth of organic farming, thereby advancing sustainable agriculture by (a) increasing incomes of limited-resource farmers and (b) reducing environmental pollution from inorganic pesticides and fertilizers. Objectives were to:
(1) Determine research needs of organic vegetable growers.
(2) Assemble a multi-disciplinary team to address needs of organic vegetable growers.
(3) Identify organic farmers for future on-farm research.
(4) Prepare a research proposal addressing needs of organic vegetable growers.
(1) In an initial survey, 123 participants growing or interested in growing organic vegetables ranked 25 listed research topics in order of importance. Insect management and marketing received the highest rankings followed by weed control, disease control, and nutrient management. Respondents described specific problems relating to these five priority topics in a second survey. Management of cucumber beetles and their transmittance of bacterial wilt disease to cucurbits was the most-mentioned insect pest. To complement the second survey, meetings were held at two distant locations in Kentucky at which each of the five priority topics were discussed in detail at workshops. Again, organic management of cucumber beetles received the most attention among insect problems. Based on high ranking of insect management and the particular emphasis on cucumber beetles by farmers in meetings and surveys, organic management of cucumber beetles was selected as a research topic, including their accompanying transmission of bacterial wilt disease.
(2) To address this topic, a multi-disciplinary team was assembled including members from Kentucky State University (KSU), the University of Kentucky (UK), the Kentucky Dept. Agriculture (KDA), and the farmer organization, Pardners for Family Farms (PFF), as follows: Dr. Gary Cline (sustainable vegetable production, KSU), Dr. John Sedlacek (entomologist, KSU), Dr. Robert Barney, (entomologist, KSU), Dr. James Hendrix (plant pathologist, UK), Dr. Marion Simon (Cooperative Extension/State Specialist for Small farms, KSU), Dr. Brent Rowell (vegetable Extension, UK), Robert “Mac” Stone” (KSU farm manager/ president of PFF), and Hope Crain (State Organic Program, KDA).
(3) In the second survey, 38 organic vegetable growers indicated a desire to do on-farm research, including growers interested in cucumber beetle research. Thus, there was considerable farmer support for research resulting from this planning project, as might be expected since farmers identified the research topic. Five farms were selected for on-farm research and demonstrations based on interest in cucumber beetle management and location in different regions of Kentucky.
(4) The multi-disciplinary team prepared a research preproposal entitled “Organic Management of Cucumber Beetles with Cucurbits”, which was submitted to SARE in 2000. The preproposal was selected for development into a full proposal which is underway. Objectives are to:
1. Compare organic methods for managing cucumber beetles in watermelon, including cover
crops, reflective mulches, beneficial insects, trap crops, and companion plants.
2. Develop an organic system for managing cucumber beetles with muskmelon including combinations of management methods.
3. Determine direct and systemic toxic effects of paw paw extracts on striped cucumber beetle.
4. Determine insecticidal effects of paw paw extract on cucumber beetles in muskmelon.
Results from the planning project indicated that cucumber beetles are the most important production problem faced by organic vegetable growers in this region. Thus, improved organic management of these beetles would advance sustainable agriculture by providing economic and environmental impacts.

Project Objectives:

The objectives were to (1) Determine what research and educational information is most needed by organic farmers, (2) Assemble a multi-disciplinary team to address research and educational needs identified by organic farmers, (3) Identify organic farmers to participate in on-farm research and demonstrations, and (4) Prepare a proposal that will provide research and education needed by organic farmers.

Introduction:

Since World War II, technical improvements have reduced farm labor and production costs, resulting in a shift from small farms to fewer numbers of large farms (Brumfield, 1996). From 1940 to 1990 the average farm size in the nation increased from 168 acres to 467 acres, while the number of farms decreased from 6.3 million to 2.1 million (Brumfield, 1996). However, small farms still remain numerous and in need of preservation to maintain rural family incomes as evidenced by the fact that 75% of the farms in the United States have gross sales under $50,000 (USDA Economic Research Service, 1994). Farming enterprises are needed that allow small farmers to compete more favorably with large farming operations.

For 78% of the 90,281 total farms in Kentucky, the market value of agricultural products sold is less than $25,000 (Bureau of the Census, 1994), indicating that Kentucky has a relatively high proportion of small farms based on the national average. Traditionally, tobacco has been the leading cash crop for small farmers in Kentucky and nearby states in the tobacco belt, but its future is uncertain due to foreign competition and health concerns (Gale, 1994; Kentucky Agricultural Statistic Service, 1996; Walsh, 1997). Congressional bills and proposals have been introduced that would end the tobacco support program and eliminate as many as 50% of the tobacco farms in Kentucky (National Commission on Small Farms, 1998).

In contrast to large highly-mechanized farms, limited-resource farmers need to adopt high-value farming enterprises that do not require expensive equipment. Vegetables are a possibility but food industries normally prefer to purchase commodities from large growers for reasons related to trucking costs, scheduling, quality, consistency, guaranteed quantities, and general dependability (Pierce 1987). Small farmers have tried combining to form co-operatives, but these usually fail due to reasons just mentioned.

The author contends that organic vegetable production may be an ideal crop for limited-resource farmers since restrictions of commercial inputs (inorganic fertilizers, pesticides etc.) and additional labor requirements make it less adaptable to large farms. Organic farming is an expanding agricultural enterprise, and demand for organic products exceeds supply according to members of the Organic Kentucky Producers Association. Sales of organically produced products have tripled since the early 1990’s (Jolly, 1998). By increasing profits of limited resource farmers and reducing use of off-farm chemical fertilizers and pesticides, organic farming also addresses the overall objective of the SARE program which is to increase profitability and sustainability.

Organic farming has not been practiced to a large degree in the past and is new to many farmers (Jolly, 1998). Also, little information is available in refereed scientific journals. Thus, research is needed to develop better organic cropping methods, and education is needed to teach existing techniques to small farmers.

Research

Materials and methods:

Survey 1. A mailing survey was conducted by Dr. Gary Cline, project coordinator, in March 2000 to determine what general research/education topics were most important to organic vegetable growers and people interested in growing organic vegetables. Survey forms containing a list of 25 research topics were sent to over 500 people who were asked to identify and rank the five topics that should receive the most research/education priority. These people were identified from (1) a list of all certified organic farmers in Kentucky provided by Hope Crain of the State Organic Program of Kentucky and (2) the mailing list from Sustainable Agriculture Workshops (Third Thursday Thing) hosted monthly at the KSU Research Farm by Dr. Marion Simon and Robert “Mac” Stone. These workshops were initiated by a SARE PDP grant “Kentucky Cooperative Extension System Training Project “ (ES97-015) awarded to Dr. Simon of Kentucky State University in 1997.
In survey 1, 123 survey forms were returned. Insect management and marketing were the topics receiving the highest research/education priority followed by weed control, disease control, and nutrient management in order of importance.
Multi-Disciplinary Team. A multi-disciplinary team of professionals was assembled to monitor subsequent farmer input regarding the five high-priority topics determined in Survey 1. The multi-disciplinary team consisted of members from Kentucky State University (KSU), the University of Kentucky (UK), the Kentucky Dept. Agriculture (KDA), and the farmer organization, Pardners for Family Farms (PFF) and included : Dr. Gary Cline (sustainable vegetable production, KSU), Dr. John Sedlacek (entomologist, KSU), Dr. Robert Barney, (entomologist, KSU), Dr. James Hendrix (plant pathologist, UK), Dr. Marion Simon (Cooperative Extension/State Specialist for Small farms, KSU), Dr. Brent Rowell (vegetable Extension, UK), Robert “Mac” Stone” (KSU farm manager/ president of Pardners for Family Farms), and Hope Crain (State Organic Program, KDA).
Survey 2. A second mailing survey was conducted by the project coordinator in April 2000 to determine what specific problems regarding the five high-priority, general topics were most important to organic vegetable growers and people interested in growing organic vegetables. A list of potential solutions was also supplied to obtain farmer input about what solutions might be researched. Regarding organic management of insects, cucumber beetles were identified as the most troublesome insect, being mentioned by 30% of the respondents. Cucumber beetles feed on cucurbits and also transmit bacterial wilt disease to the plants. Brenda Evans, a certified organic grower stated “I lose the whole crop one out of every two growing seasons” (referring to cucurbits affected by cucumber beetles). Christy Korrow, another certified organic grower, wrote “cucumber beetles and accompanying bacterial wilt have been one of our most serious problems this year, destroying as many as 500 melon and cucumber plants.” Development of botanical insecticides was mentioned most often (40% of respondents) as the most promising potential solution in need of research. Results of survey 2 were summarized both by respondent and topic and distributed to all members of the multi-disciplinary team for evaluation and inclusion in future research proposals.
In this survey, 38 organic vegetable growers indicated a desire to do on-farm research, including growers interested in cucumber beetle research. Thus, there was considerable farmer support for research resulting from this planning project, as might be expected since farmers identified the research topic. Five farms were selected for on-farm research and demonstrations based on interest in cucumber beetle management and locations in different regions of Kentucky.
Frankfort Meeting. To complement the second survey, meetings were held at two different locations in Kentucky at which farmers were given the opportunity to vocally discuss each of the five priority topics at different workshops. Over 30 growers attended a meeting held in Central Kentucky at Kentucky State University in Frankfort on May 6, 2000. Workshops (team discussion leaders) included Insect Management/Disease Control (Drs. Sedlacek. Rowell, and Hendrix), Marketing (Dr. Simon, Hope Crain), and Weed Control/Nutrient Management (Dr. Cline and Robert “Mac” Stone). Farmer comments were recorded on flip charts. These comments were rewritten using computer software and distributed to all members of the multi-disciplinary team for evaluation.
Fairview Meeting. A second meeting was conducted on November 15, 2000 to reach growers in Western Kentucky, the most productive agricultural region of the state. The meeting was held at the Fire Station in Fairview to accommodate the many local Mennonite and Amish vegetable growers who are not able to travel far due to religious convictions. This meeting, attended by over 30 growers, was similar to the Frankfort meeting, except Dr. Rowell and Robert “Mac” Stone were unable to attend. At the beginning of the meeting each participant was asked to introduce themself and briefly state his concerns. Over 50% of the participants specifically mentioned problems with cucumber beetles. Comments of participants were rewritten and distributed to all members of the multi-disciplinary team.
Proposal Preparation. Farmer input collected from meetings and surveys indicated that
cucumber beetles are the most important production problem faced by organic vegetable growers in this region. With input from all members of the multi-disciplinary team, Dr. Cline prepared a preproposal entitled “Organic Management of Cucumber Beetles with Cucurbits”, which was submitted to SARE in 2000. The preproposal was selected for development into a full proposal which is underway. Objectives are to:
1. Compare organic methods for managing cucumber beetles in watermelon, including cover crops, reflective mulches, beneficial insects, trap crops, and companion plants.
2. Develop an organic system for managing cucumber beetles with muskmelon includingcombinations of management methods.
3. Determine direct and systemic toxic effects of paw paw extracts on striped cucumber beetle.
4. Determine insecticidal effects of paw paw extract on cucumber beetles in muskmelon.
Results from the planning project, indicated that cucumber beetles are the most important production problem faced by organic vegetable growers in this region. Thus, improved organic management of these beetles would advance sustainable agriculture by providing economic and environmental impact.

Research results and discussion:

In November 2000, the preproposal was selected to be written into a full proposal for submission to SARE in January 2001. This proposal with possible modification will be sent to:
1. SARE
2. USDA Capacity Building Grants Program

Participation Summary

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Evaluation

A. The project coordinator believes that all objectives were met and that the project was extremely successful. Cucumber beetle management was identified as the biggest production problem facing organic vegetable growers in this region in surveys and meetings. A talented multi-disciplinary team was assembled to address this problem, and 38 organic vegetable growers indicated a desire to do on-farm research. Five farms were selected for on-farm research and demonstrations based on interest in cucumber beetle management and location in different regions of Kentucky. A preproposal was written, submitted to SARE, and selected for development into a full proposal which is underway.
B. The biggest problem was getting an account established for this project at Kentucky State University. The project coordinator was notified that the project could begin in May 1999. However, the KSU accouting office would not permit spending of project funds until July when the subcontract from SARE was officially received and a KSU account was established. For some reason, it took KSU until February 2000 to actually establish this account and allow project funds to be accessed. Thus, the project was extended. Consequently, Survey 2 and the Frankfort meeting had to be conducted in spring when vegetable growers were preparing their fields, which probably decreased participation.
C. Southern SARE did not impede objectives. A previous SARE project, SARE PDP grant “Kentucky Cooperative Extension System Training Project “ (Third Thursday Thing) ES97-015, helped identify farmers that participated in the project as described previously.

Economic Analysis

Cooperative Efforts

Kentucky State University

Dr. Gary Cline was the Project Coordinator of this planning project. He is a principal investigator of plant and soil science at Kentucky State University. Dr. Cline has conducted research with sustainable vegetable production for the past 6 years. This research has involved the use of legume cover crops as nitrogen sources and the use of conservation tillage practices to reduce soil erosion. He was in charge of organizing all activities and was a member of the multi-disciplinary team. He also prepared the proposal submitted to SARE with input from all other members of the multi-disciplinary team.
Dr. John Sedlacek is an entomologist at Kentucky State University who has been conducting research on insect ecology and management in stored products. He has experience with microbial control of beetles and moth pests in stored grain. Dr. Sedlacek also has experience with insects affecting vegetables. Dr. Sedlacek reviewed the results of surveys and participated in both meetings by leading discussons in organic insect management. He also assisted in the preparation of the preproposal submitted to SARE.
Dr. Marion Simon is the Kentucky State Specialist for Small Farms and Part-time Farmers and is also employed by the Cooperative Extension Program at Kentucky State University. Dr. Simon assisted with the organization of meetings and surveys. She provided names of farmers to be contacted for participation in surveys and meetings from the mailing list from monthly Sustainable Agriculture Workshops (Third Thursday Thing) at the KSU Research Farm, which were initiated by a SARE grant. Dr. Simon reviewed survey results and led discussions about marketing at both meetings. She assisted in writing sections about on-farm research in the preproposal submitted to SARE.
Robert “Mac” Stone is the manager of the Kentucky State University Research Farm and president of Pardners for Family Farms, a farmer organization dedicated to improving lives of small farmers. He is a practicing organic farmer and an activist for organic and sustainable agriculture. Mr. Stone also hosts the monthly Sustainable Agriculture Workshops (Third Thursday Thing) at the KSU Research Farm. Mr. Stone helped lead the discussions in the workshop about weed control/nutrient management at the Frankfort meeting. He also assisted in the design of field experiment in the preproposal submitted to SARE.

University of Kentucky

Dr. James Hendrix is a plant pathologist and member of the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Kentucky. He has research experience with diseases caused by soilborne fungal pathogens and beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. He reviewed surveys and led discussions about disease control at both meetings. He also offered suggestions about bacterial wilt disease during preparation of the preproposal submitted to SARE
Dr. Brent Rowell is employed by the University of Kentucky as a vegetable production Extension specialist. He attended the Frankfort meeting and helped lead discussions at workshops addressing organic insect and disease control.

Kentucky State Dept. Agriculture.

Hope Crain is the coordinator of the State Organic Program of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which has records of all certified organic farmers in Kentucky. Thus, Ms. Crain supplied names of many of the farmers that participated in surveys and attended meetings. Because Ms. Crain certifies all organic farmers in Kentucky, she is aware of the current rules and regulations. She attended both meetings and led discussions in marketing. She also answered questions about rules and regulations regarding organic vegetable production at the meetings. During preproposal preparation, Ms. Crain offered suggestions about establishment of demonstration sites and field days and about the usefulness of some methods of organic management of insects.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

Bibliography

Brumfield, R.G. 1996. Sustainable horticulture: an overview. HortTech. 6:352-354.

Bureau of the Census. 1994. 1992 Census of Agriculture, Volume 1, Part 17 Kentucky. AC92-A-17. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.

Gale, F. 1994. Economic outlook for agronomic crops. USDA-ARS. Ag. Econ. Report No. 694.

Jolly, D. 1998. Organics on the Brink. Organic Farming Research Foundation Information Bulletin 5:1, 16

Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service. 1996. Kentucky Agricultural Statistics. Kentucky Dept. Agriculture, Louisville, KY.

National Commission on Small Farms. 1998. A Time To Act. USDA Misc. Pub. 1545 (MP-1545).

Pierce, L.C. 1987. Vegetables: Characteristics, Production, and Marketing. John Wiley & Sons. New York. 433 pp.

USDA Economic Research Service. 1994. Structural and Financial Characteristics of U.S. Farms. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C.

Walsh, B. 1997. What about the long term. Cooperative Farmer 52:25.

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.