Increasing Safety and Sustainability and Reducing the Use of Pesticides and Other Farm Chemicals Among Hmong Farmers

2009 Annual Report for FNC08-723

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $18,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:

Increasing Safety and Sustainability and Reducing the Use of Pesticides and Other Farm Chemicals Among Hmong Farmers


Upon receiving the SARE/MDA grant, Ly Vang, Executive Director for Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota (AAHWM), hired Kevin Cavanaugh, Integrated Pest Management Specialist, as the project consultant.

[Editor’s Note, Ly Vang received a NCR-SARE Grant as well as a Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant in support of this project.]

Mr. Cavanaugh has over 20 years experience in teaching and advising growers in agriculture and pest management practices. In addition to hiring the project consultant, Maiker Vang was hired as the Farm Coordinator. The Farm Coordinator had a double role as Hmong language translator and served as a trainer to the two participating farmers in the project. The initial meeting of AAHWM Executive Director, Project Consultant, Farm Coordinator and two participating farmers took place on June 5, 2009. At this meeting the project purpose was discussed and how the consultant and Farm Coordinator would provide training and assistance to the Hmong farmers.

Training of the Farm Coordinator began in early June and was lead by the consultant, Mr. Cavanaugh. Lesson plans developed and taught by the consultant included topics on understanding the role of integrated pest management as a way to reduce pesticide use, general cabbage production techniques, soil testing and fertility, composting/mulching, understanding pesticide labels and personal safety, insect identification that included cabbage pests and beneficial insects, using insect thresholds for determining timing of pesticides, risk management and its benefits, and cultural methods used in abating insect pests on cabbage. A total of 20 hours of instruction was provided to the Farm Coordinator by the consultant on the topics listed.

The consultant created four treatments that would be demonstrated on the farms of the two Hmong women in the Rosemount area. The purpose of the treatments was to show different ways of abating insect pests using cultural methods and a safe, low impact pesticide. The four treatments were: 1) Control – no pesticides applied, 2) Dipel DF (bacterial based insecticide) was applied as needed when Lepidoptera insect larvae reached threshold levels, 3) Row Covers (spunbound polyester) placed over rows, and 4) Trap Crop (two rows of collard greens placed adjacent to cabbage row). Literature research conducted by the consultant found variable success using trap crops to draw cabbage Lepidoptera pests away from laying eggs in cabbage. The risks of all treatments were explained to the farmers in advance of establishing the demonstration rows. Four-row plots were marked at each farm with each farmer being responsible for planting the cabbage plants. Each farmer had their own cabbage nursery from which they transplanted the cabbage plants. Row length was determined by the space made available by the individual grower. Grower Dia Xiang had rows 135-foot length rows with three feet between rows and grower Yer Vang had 70-foot length rows with three feet between rows. Cabbage plots for each farmer were established between late June and early July. Row covers were not installed until almost two weeks after planting which lead to some insect establishment under the row covers.

The consultant and Farm Coordinator made weekly visits to the farmers beginning in mid-June. During these visits the consultant and Farm Coordinator observed cabbage growth and insect activity associated with each plot. The Farm Coordinator reported the observations made by the consultant to the two farmers during each visit. The concept of using row covers and trap crops was entirely new to the Hmong farmers. The purpose of why these cultural methods were being demonstrated was explained as a way to manage insect pests without relying heavily on harsh pesticides. The consultant and Farm Coordinator showed both farmers the different stages of the cabbage insect pests: egg, larvae, and pupation. In discussing the life cycle of the larvae pests to the farmers, the consultant explained that the cabbage could tolerate some early feeding by these pests. The consultant informed the farmers that when the cabbage began head development, they were more sensitive to larvae damage and pesticides may have to be used to keep the numbers in check.

Both farmers inquired on how much fertilizer to add to the cabbage plants. Traditionally, the Hmong farmers told the consultant that they add a small amount (small handful) of fertilizer (usually 19-19-19) near the plant when transplanting. The consultant told the farmers this was good to get the cabbage started, but more would be needed since cabbage are heavy feeders of nitrogen. Using the farmers respective plot sizes and fertilizer they hand on hand, the consultant calculated and weighed out amounts of fertilizer that would provide 120 lb/A for the season. No soil test was taken of the plots due to the late establishment of the plots. The fertilizer amounts for each row were divided so split applications could be made during the growing season. Fertilizer applications were made at Dia Xiong’s farm, but due to the lateness of the season, only one fertilizer application was made at Yer Vang’s farm.

Although insect eggs and larvae were easily found on cabbage leaves at both farms, cool temperatures coupled with heavy rains in August diminished the feeding injury on the cabbage plants. One application of Dipel DF was made at Dia Xiang’s farm and two applications of the same product were made at Yer Vang’s farm. Due to the late installation of the row cover at Yer Vang’s farm (transplants became infested with eggs before the cover was installed), the row cover had to be lifted and treated with Dipel to diminish many of the larvae of Imported Cabbageworm Butterfly.

The demonstration plots were harvested in late August at Dia Xiang’s farm and mid-September at Yer Vang. At Dia Xiang’s farm, the trap crop treatment had the highest average head size of 5.2 pounds whereas at Yer Vang’s the row cover treatment was 6.5 pounds. Both farmers were pleased with the results and liked the idea of using a row cover. The cost of the row cover was $0.11/foot. The price cabbage heads at the market sold for was about $1/head (personal communication with farmers) so the cost of the row cover was easily covered by the sale of the cabbage.

Despite a late start, growers were pleased with the new ideas introduced to them by the consultant and Farm Coordinator. Both farmers quickly saw the value and ease of setting up row covers to protect cabbage from insect pests. With careful handling of the row cover, it can be used for several years before replacement.

Discussions are to be held with the farmers, consultant, Farm Coordinator and the Executive Director of AAHWM to discuss the first year of the project and to plan for next year. Some early discussions between the consultant and the Executive Director recognized the strain of the heavy workload both farmers endure each season. For next year, once plot size and location are established, soil tests will be taken to determine the nutrient requirements for the cabbage plots. Another idea for next year is to introduce mulching to control heavy weed pressure in cabbage plots. Another thought is to discuss with the farmers reducing over planting of vegetables to reduce field spoilage and reduce labor and financial expenses.

Future Goals:
- Consultant and Farm Coordinator will meet monthly with AAHWM Executive Director to wrap-up 1st year activities.
- Work with DVD Crew to develop Cabbages Education DVD and/CD Oct 2009 to Jan 2010.
- Provide education and training for the two Farmer Yer Vang and Dia Xiong to prepare them for next year’s Farm Season for the Cabbage Growing, Pesticide Management, supplies and equipment and other related needs.
- Project coordinator and consultant will provide Pesticide Management for Cabbage to the SEA Farmers at the 5th Minority Conference on Feb 2010.

Field Days
Sept 14, 2009; 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM; Dia Xiong Farm
Sept 21, 2009; 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM; Yer Vang Farm