Comparative Economic and Ecological Analyses of Lower Chemical Input Fruit Farms and Other Fruit Farming Systems
1) Make detailed whole-farm economic analyses of low chemical input fruit farms growing small
fruits for economic comparison with conventional and other fruit farming systems with similar
crops in the same region.
2) Make detailed ecological analyses of the same low chemical input fruit farms for ecological
comparisons with other fruit farming systems.
3) Disseminate information from these on-farm studies through Field Days,
Demonstrations/Workshops, a Farmer-to-Farmer Mentorship Program, and printed information.
4) Develop long-term demonstrations of lower chemical input fruit farming systems for
continued economic and ecological evaluation and for on-going display and education for fruit
farmers and the general public.
A considerable amount of case study information was gathered and processed on the economic
and ecological functioning of three lower chemical input (organic) and three higher chemical
input farming systems, growing strawberries, brambles (raspberries and blackberries) and
blueberries. These small fruit farms were paired-up (one lower chemical and one higher chemical
input grower) representing three different regions in the state of Ohio. Economic analyses
involved detailed accounting of all inputs and outputs on a whole-farm basis and on an enterprise
(fruit crop) basis. This was done by conventional bookkeeping means and through taped
interviews of each farmer to obtain details in cultural practices, management and labor activities.
It was found that two of the three lower chemical input fruit farms were able to successfully
reduce chemical input without significantly reducing yields. However, observed trends that
extended beyond the two year scope of this study indicated that there were inconsistencies in
these lower chemical input fruit farms in terms of their ability to produce. This can be explained
by other management decisions and ecosystem functions that are unrelated to the influence of
chemical inputs. The reduction of chemical inputs generally reduced production costs, but not in
all cases, as the inputs had to be replaced with labor. Higher levels of chemical fertilizer inputs
did not always translate into higher production. However, the highest yields were seen on one the
higher chemical input fruit farms.
There were no major differences in scale and diversity, or related debt loads and subsequent
infrastructure maintenance of building and equipment. The debt and infrastructure maintenance
related to the availability of capital, which presented differences in the overall economic
character of each fruit farm, including how, what, and why certain management decisions were
made. Along all parameters of measurement, differences in ecosystem function as they related to
lower and higher chemical input farming systems were detected. However, these differences
were not consistent, statistically verifiable, or always applicable to one fruit farming system or
the other. These inconsistencies occurred within specific parameters, including nutrients and
orders of invertebrates. Regardless, it was clear that the lower chemical input fruit farmers gained
significant advantages in nutrients with higher throughput of organic matter through additions of
mulches and general applications of manure and other biomass. The impact of this study in terms
of its educational and research benefits was enhanced significantly through a series of on-farm
workshops and tours, in addition to workshops on lower chemical input fruit production in more
formal settings, such as conferences and seminars.
Positive Contributions and Practical Applications:
The observations from this study indicate that ecosystem function of fruit farms can be impacted
and manipulated through the choice of production strategies, which could also translate into
dollars saved for the farmer. For instance, timely additions of organic matter can offset fertilizer
on a cost competitive basis, and $200 – $300 can be saved per acre in pesticide use if proper
management techniques are employed.
* Fruit farmers should test their soil more often and rely more heavily on the combination of this
information and their own observations to make modifications in fertility programs.
* Fruit farmers should optimize organic matter additions to their soil, either incorporated or as
mulches, to influence fertility, drainage, moisture retention, and biological activity, as well as for
* Foliar applications of seaweed and fish emulsion appear to be cost effective means of adding
fertility to small fruits.
* Greater attention should be made to the timing of certain cultural practices.
* Risks associated with alternative fertility and pest management strategies appear to be lessened
with perennial cropping systems vs. annual cropping systems. Fruit growers should be able to try
new things on fruit crops with more confidence and less concern as the plants are more resistant
to system perturbation, including weather, fertility shifts, and pest activity.
Stratford Ecological Society
3083 Liberty Rd
Delaware, OH 43015
Office Phone: 7403632548