Testing Traditional Methods of Pest Mitigation

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2011: $29,434.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Joseph Alfaro
Valle Encantado


  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), tomatoes, turnips
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Crop Production: application rate management
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Pest Management: biological control, botanical pesticides, cultural control, eradication, integrated pest management, mating disruption, physical control, cultivation, row covers (for pests), trap crops, weather monitoring
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, transitioning to organic

    Proposal summary:

    As consumers are exposed to a greater variety of food sources that are healthier and locally grown, they become more willing to pay premium prices for agricultural products of higher quality. Producers, on the other hand, face the challenge of satisfying this demand in a manner that is both sustainable and profitable. The purpose of this project is to research traditional, chemical-free methods of pest control. The goal would be identify and document local ways to conduct pest control as it has been practiced in New Mexico for centuries. To identify local ways to control pests, we will first conduct interviews with local farmers and local Native populations. Research to document these methods will also be done. We will then evaluate these methods by implementing them across multiple grow sites operated by three local farmers who collectively comprise the Agri-Cultura network.

    Our contention is that the adoption of local, traditional practices for pest control will enable producers to deliver more products in a cost effective manner by both reducing labor inputs and mitigating losses.

    New Mexico is uniquely suited for this type of research, as traditional agriculture has been practiced here for centuries. The Pueblo Cultures, from the Anasazi to the Pueblos today, practiced farming. Later, with the migration of Mexican indigenous peoples from Tlaxcala and Spanish settlers, these practices were reinforced, with small-scale farmers by necessity practicing self-sufficiency and sustainable practices along the Rio Grande. These methods have been preserved and refined over centuries.

    Our methodology is as follows:

    We will conduct interviews with eight practitioners of traditional pest control methods. Research will also be conducted to identify other sources of this information. We will then develop practical, definable and testable methods based upon the information collected. These methods will then be implemented and evaluated on the farms participating in Agri-Cultura Network (ACN) and compared in effectiveness to contemporary, non-chemical approaches. (Although the members of ACN cooperate for marketing and education, each farm is a independent and separate operation.)

    ACN operates as part of a larger ecosystem of growers and farmers. Local Hispanic, Chicano and Pueblo growers from the land grants, pueblos and local communities make up a vast network of people farming and irrigating. These connections will allow us to share the pest control methods identified with a broad and growing ecosystem of farmers. The fact that ACN is located in the South Valley provides us with the ability to conduct research via oral history and present the results in an easy to understand and engaging manner.

    On our own farms we have faced the challenge of achieving effective pest control while staying true to our values of organic production. It is likely that many other producers face similar challenges, and that our project could have significant impact on their operations and profitability.

    For more information on ACN, see http://afsc.org/program/new-mexico-agri-cultura-network

    Project objectives from proposal:


    1.Conduct interviews with eight practitioners of traditional pest control methods. The interviewees will include Elders from local communities and Pueblos who have grown up on the land. Measures will be taken to protect their traditional knowledge and properly provide them with acknowledgement about the sources of information we collect from local and Pueblo communities.

    2. Conduct research through other channels (Internet, communications with experts, etc.) into traditional pest control methods.

    3.Distill interviews and research into applicable, defined, practical and testable methods.

    Timeline: Interviews will start when the funding is provided. Interviews will take place over a four-week period. In order to document this process, ACN will use multimedia. Editing of video footage will occur concurrently with data collection so that we can share the results quickly. Organizing the information and data collected in a manner that farmers can then implement the findings will require approximately two weeks.


    1. Establish a quantified baseline of infestation.

    2. Apply methods to our farms devoting a portion of our land to serve as the control area, allowing us to understand and document the variables involved in the process of controlling pest with local pesticides. This portion will be treated as we have done in the past. Identified and documented traditional methods will be applied in separate parcels to understand how the sites react to different methods of pest control. Parallel research will be done on three of our farms, i.e. we will have the same method parcels and controls replicated on three farm sites simultaneously.

    Timeline: Methods will be put into practice immediately after they are defined. Methods will be applied through end of season during the first year of the project. Data will be collected at regular intervals.


    Timeline: Immediately upon completion of Phase 2


    Timeline: Immediately upon completion of Phase 3.

    One of the biggest challenges in achieving profitability on a small farm that strives to produce all-natural, chemical-free produce is the danger of pest infestation. Over the last year, the members of the Agri-Cultura Network have seen entire crops devastated by flea beetles, aphids, snails and other invasive pests. To combat these destructive insects, we have employed a number of contemporary, chemical-free methods that have proven effective. However, those methods are not necessarily as “sustainable” as we would like (for the most part, these solutions are manufactured out of state, are packaged in plastic and shipped to our region). If traditional, local methods can be found that are close to or more effective than these contemporary methods, they would introduce a new level of sustainability to agriculture in the Rio Grande valley. Local growers would be able to mitigate pests more effectively and for less cost than what we are doing today, providing the added benefit of greater profitability and higher levels of sustainability to their businesses.

    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.