Implementing a sustainable greenhouse health maintenance program
Twenty six diversified farmers participated in one-to-one site visits that were implemented in spring 08 in Connecticut (12), Massachusetts (13) and Rhode Island (1). A total of 132 site visits were conducted by three Extension Staff in Connecticut (109) and Massachusetts (23). As a result of these visits, 8 growers changed practices associated with their soil fertility. Fourteen growers learned to identify insects, diseases and mites in their greenhouses through assistance with scouting and learned about managing their pests using safer pesticides. Three used microbial pesticides and/or biological control methods such as Trichoderma,Beauvaria bassiana, Bacillus thuringiensis, Hypoaspis miles, and Neoseilus cucumeris and parasitic nematodes as a result of the site visits. Three growers were shown how to use on-site test kits for disease diagnosis in their greenhouse and Fourteen growers changed a practice related to cultural practices. Participation was solicited by publicizing the program in Extension and Trade Association newsletters, through email lists and website. The diversified farms included dairy, livestock, Christmas trees, fruit growers, greenhouse vegetable growers, field vegetable growers and hay.
We continued our New England Greenhouse Update website (www.negreenhouse.org) where we posted information from our one-to one site visits as messages on a blog. The blog allows participation from Extension educators in different geographic areas to easily post messages into a pre-formatted webpage. We continued to expand the photo library. We continued to solicit email addresses from farmers in MA, CT and RI and increased our email list from 350 (Dec. 06) to 464 (Dec. 07) to 511 (Dec. 08). We solicited email addresses primarily at educational programs and exhibits held throughout the year. We also continue to use faxes to reach farmers (23) without email.
Two hundred eighty farmers/growers participated in three NESARE sponsored educational programs during 08. The Basics of Plant Problem Diagnosis was held April, 08 in Seekonk, MA (for convenience of RI and southeastern MA growers). Biological Control in Greenhouses was held September 08 and Alternative Greenhouse Crops was held December 08 at the Sturbridge Host Hotel which is centrally located, with easy parking and is familiar to farmers for it is the past site of the NEVB and NEGC conferences. The program, Alternative Crops for Greenhouses and High Tunnels was held the day of a very large ice storm, Friday, December 12th. There were 195 people preregistered for the program and 155 attended, exceeding our expectations.
Of the 150 farmers in southern New England (MA, CT, RI) who will participate in on-farm, and other educational opportunities offered through this program, we project that at least 30 will adopt one or more new sustainable greenhouse practices within three years of the program. These 30 farmers will achieve one or more of the following: Reduced plant losses from pest damage or cultural practices, reduced use of high-risk pesticides, effective use of low-risk pesticides and biological controls, and integration of proper cultural practices in their greenhouses. Project activities will support the NESARE outcome statement by having a positive influence on the environment and by helping participating farms to become successfully diversified and profitable. More farmers will adopt sustainable practices for greenhouse production as a result of this project. This will have a positive influence on the environment by reducing the use of high-risk pesticides. Since the beneficiaries will be farmers who grow other agricultural crops or may raise livestock, this project will also help the farmers to diversify their businesses by successfully growing greenhouse plants for sale, increasing farm incomes.
How will we know that we have reached this goal?
During site visits, extension educators, with the farmers input, will assess their current situation including greenhouse cultural practices, diagnostic procedures, pesticide use, crop losses, past pest problems, and crop quality satisfaction. Farmers that do not receive a site visit, but attend educational programs organized by the project or participate in the alert program (email or fax) will complete a self assessment baseline survey. Participating farmers will complete a follow-up survey in fall/winter 2007 to self-assess changes in greenhouse practices and crop quality, as described above.
We continued with our one-to-one visits primarily for spring crops. The number of poinsettia growers has declined in the region due to the higher cost of production, lower profit margins and increased competition with lower priced poinsettias shipped in from other areas. We posted information from our site visits on our blog as an early alert system for a larger audience of growers that are emailed with a link to the blog every time a new message is posted. This has worked very well and we have received positive feedback from growers. We conducted an evaluation in 06 and are conducting a second evaluation during Nov and Dec. 08. We are in the process of receiving evaluations at this time. We also conducted several educational programs this year that tied into our sustainable greenhouse program. We reached more growers than originally projected. Although our program is focused on Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, growers from throughout the Northeast have attended our educational programs and asked to be on our email list. Several national greenhouse trade magazines regularly use the information from our blog for their email alerts which has helped to reach more growers.
One-to-one site visits
Twenty six diversified farmers participated in one-to-one site visits that were implemented in spring 08 in Connecticut (12), Massachusetts (13) and Rhode Island (1). The farms included dairy, livestock, Christmas trees, fruit growers, field vegetable growers and hay as part of their business in addition to greenhouses. Some growers were visited several times, other once or twice. A total of 132 site visits were conducted for 26 growers by three Extension Staff in Connecticut (109) and Massachusetts (23). As a result of these visits, 8 growers changed practices associated with their soil fertility. These practices included, adjusting rates of fertilizer applications and changing the type of fertilizer used from a high ammonium based fertilizer to a nitrate fertilizer. Fourteen growers learned to use sticky cards properly and identify insects, diseases and mites in their greenhouses through assistance with scouting. They also learned about managing their pests using safer pesticides. Three participants used microbial pesticides and/or biological control methods including Trichoderma, Beauvaria bassiana, Bacillus thuringiensis, Hypoaspis miles, Neoseilus cucumeris and parasitic nematodes as a result of the site visits. Three growers were shown how to use on-site test kits for disease diagnosis in their greenhouse and fourteen growers learned about and changed a practice related to cultural practices. These included sanitation practices, managing oedema, properly using plant growth regulators, temperature management, planting methods and greenhouse engineering. Participation in the one-to-one site visits program was solicited through Extension and Trade Association newsletters, email lists and website.
Two specific examples of one-to-one site visits by Extension educators:
Observation made during visit – Poor planting and handling of small plugs, Recommendation and results – provided him with written information on planting techniques to change his practices for future plantings. Also provided assistance for identification and scouting for pests using sticky cards. He was able to conduct his own scouting as a result.
Observation made during visit – Severe thrips damage, Recommendation and results – showed grower how to use sticky traps and INSV test kits, recommended discarding some plants serving as a reservoir and discussed management practices and pesticide use. Follow- up visit and help.
Alert Program – 2008
We continued our New England Greenhouse Update website where we posted information from our one-to one site visits as messages on a blog. We signed up an additional 47 this year for a total email list of 511 that receive emails and links to the blog when a new message is posted. A survey card was requested from farmers signing up this year that contained questions to learn about the type of farm. Of the 11 responses, 3 grew ornamentals, 6 grew greenhouse vegetables, 6 field vegetables, 1 tree fruit producers, 3 small fruit producers, 1 sheep, 2 schools, 1 tree fruit grower. Eight use organic practices and 3 do not, 5 use integrated pest management practices and 1 did not. The early alert system through the email and website is a very successful program with positive unsolicited feedback this year. An on-line evaluation of the program was completed during December 06 which was reported on during 06. An on-line evaluation is currently being conducted and results will be reported in the next report.
The New England Greenhouse Update website had 5,200 visits per year according to Google analytics and 24,700 pages were viewed. Of those visits, 54% were from traffic (linked) via email alert 24% from search engines and 21.5% from referred sites.
The educational program “The Basics of Plant Problem Diagnosis” was held April, 08 in Seekonk, MA, and was attended by 50. This program was requested by a one-to-one SARE program participant. Educational topics included the basics of soil and soil testing, and IPM strategies to manage key insects, diseases. Sixty six percent of the participants returned an evaluation. Of those, 100% checked that they learned something that they intend to use. Some of the specific knowledge learned included information on insect and disease identification, soil testing and preventative skills.
The program “Biological Control in Greenhouses”, was held in September 08 and was attended by 75, exceeding our expectations. Sixty five percent completed an evaluation for the program. Of those 46% felt that they were definitely more prepared to implement a biological control program as a result of the conference and 38% were somewhat prepared. One hundred percent thought that the individual talks and the conference ranged from useful to very useful. Comments on the evaluation forms were very positive such as, “Ton of useful information! I will certainly re-invest time into research for future bio-control programs”. “Excellent speakers.” “This was fantastic, great speakers”. “Great practical information”.
The program “Alternative Crops for Greenhouses and High Tunnels” was held December 12th and was attended by 155, well over our expectation. Fifty nine percent completed evaluations. Of those 100% percent checked that the conference was either useful or very useful and 85% thought that they would benefit economically as a result of the conference.
To reach as many diversified farms as possible for the educational programs, in addition to our Extension networks in Connecticut and Massachusetts, we published articles in Country Folks Grower (distributed throughout New England), and reached out to Extension staff in Rhode Island who sent out information through their agricultural network. We also reached growers through the New England Vegetable Growers Association.
An educational display was staffed at Milikowski Co. Open House and Griffin Greenhouse Supply Co. open houses by Leanne, Tina and Paul. Information was distributed about the educational programs and the New England Greenhouse Update website.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Through the one-to-one site visits alone, over this past year 8 growers changed practices associated with their soil fertility and application, fourteen learned to identify insects, diseases and mites in their greenhouses through assistance with scouting and learned about managing their pests using safer pesticides and 3 used microbial pesticides and/or biological control methods for the first time and fourteen growers learned about and changed a practice related to cultural practices. These are all practices that were conducted by farmers who, by participating in the sustainable greenhouse management program, were able to reduce plant losses, grow better greenhouse crops and use sustainable practices like biological control. These practices resulted in successfully diversifying their farm businesses using greenhouses and having a positive influence on the environment.
Also, 33 growers learned information they intend to use about insect and disease identification and soil testing after attending the educational program, The Basics of Plant Problem Diagnosis, 35 growers were more prepared to implement a biological control program after attending the biological control education program and 131 growers think they will benefit economically as a result of attending the educational program on Alternative Greenhouse Crops.
Extension Plant Pathologist
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003
Office Phone: 4135771827
Director of Pathology Lab for Greenhouse Crops
University of Massachusetts
Dept. of Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences
Amherst, MA 01003
Office Phone: 4135451045
Professor & Extension Specialist
University of Connecticut
Agricultural Biotechnology Laboratory
1390 Storrs Rd, U-4163
Storrs, CT 06269-4163
Office Phone: 8604860627