Development and Demonstration of Methods toward Sustainable Apple Production: Continuation of Systems Integration

1991 Annual Report for LNC91-022.1

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1991: $18,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1993
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Stuart Gage
Michigan State University

Development and Demonstration of Methods toward Sustainable Apple Production: Continuation of Systems Integration


Through this continuation, researchers pursued methods for significantly reducing the chemicals applied in commercial applie production. They also will examine new pest control strategies and market options to optimize the land resource in small orchards so that small or part-time farmers might obtain value in the integration of other crops and animals into orchard ecosystems.

During 1990, development toward sustainable apple production was initiated at the KBS orchard and at the VanNewenhizen’s mixed fruit farm near Benton Harbor, Michigan. Observations and data collected during 1990 included the following components related to low chemical pest reduction systems: the introduction of chickens as pest control agents and weed foragers; the adoption of pheromone disruption as an alternative technique for codling moth control; monitoring of predatory insect diversity; and a farmer’s market survey of the acceptability of disease-resistant fresh apple and dried apple products to consumers.

This project will help substantiate that studying only single components only single components of a system as complex as an apple orchard will not yield information to enable practical implementation. The multifaceted systems approach taken here will provide growers with new ideas, unique strategies and quantitative information to enable them to undertake a sustainable approach to orchard systems using low inputs.

1. Determine the effectiveness of chicken foraging as an alternative to herbicides in apple orchards;
2. Quantify the degree of plum cuculio, codling moth and Japanese beetle control effected by chickens;
3. Document the economic benefits/costs of placing chickens within the orchard, or growing and marketing disease-resistant apples and of intercropping; and
4. Measure the effect of codling moth pheromone disruption as an environmentally safe alternative to insecticides for control of codling moth.

This project is examining the potential for significanty reducing chemical applications in apple orchards as well as new pest control strategies, market options and designs to optimize land resources in small orchards. The latter feature would help producers benefit from the integration of produce or other crops into the orchard system. A quantitative biological monitoring and delivery system is being developed to provide orchardists the ability to collect and quantify standardized observations on pests and apple production so treatments can be compared across the low-input orchard network.

Monitoring was conducted on four apple insect pest (codling moth, plum curculio, apple maggot and Japanese beetles) and two beneficial insects (lacewings and ladybird beetles). Visual and trap monitoring of these insects was correlated with weather data to determine appropriate timing for biological controls. Mating disruption was chosen as the biological control method for codling moth at both experiment sites. Researchers found that the disruption technique provided a significant degree of control during years with normal temperatures, but that because of the high pest population, an additional control method would be necessary. Scouting counts would indicate that lacewings may be more suitable than ladybird beetles as orchard predators because lacewings are less particular about food or habitat. Lacewings were consistently found in higher numbers and more continuously. In one case, a producer introduced 20,000 13-spotted adult ladybird beetles in his orchard, all of which left. Lack of food, strange habitats of life-state may have induced them to leave. Larval predators may be better control agents since their focus in life is eating.

A computer program is being developed to provide statistical analysis and management information. Data collected during the two-year period from a farm and from an experimental orchard will provide an example set of observations on pests and production.

The second goal of this project is to examine and evaluate the benefits of including other plant and animal systems in the apple orchard ecosystem to increase biological diversity for pest reduction and enhance predator effectiveness. During two production seasons, Barred Rock chickens were tested as a biological control agent of plum curculio, Japanese beetles and weeds. It was found that chickens, when introduced early enough in the season, can reduce vegetation competition as effectively as any herbicide. The success of their weed control was related to the climate and time when they were introduced. The project also studied the chickens effect on controlling insect pests. Control of the plum curculio and Japanese beetle improved, although there was no effect on control of codling moth.

The project also studied consumer demand and marketing needs for new low-chemical input, disease-resistant varieties. A market survey conducted with 100 people at a farmer’s market indicates that consumers would enjoy the Redfree disease-resistant variety at least we as well as the varieties they typically bought on the market.