Ratcheting up commercial organic high-bush blueberry production systems
Improved pest management for blueberry maggot, oriental beetle, mummyberry, and anthracnose disease on organically grown blueberries, is necessary to increase the quality and quantity of organic berries grown in the Northeast. The project leader has coordinated trials in cooperation with the Rutgers Blueberry Working Group and a New Jersey farmer to incorporate an integrated pest management system with new biological tools and best management practices. The site has been used as a demonstration for farmers making the transition to organic production,for farm educators interested in applying new sustainable practices and for consumers interested in health, nutrition and the environment.
In order to increase quantity and quality of organically produced highbush blueberry, commercial trials were implemented to suppress/manage/control key pests within an integrated and economically viable production system. The main program objectives and specific pest targets were :
1. incorporate effective cultural baselines encompassing soil health, fertility, sanitation, water usage and weed management with mulches.
2. determine an appropriate IPM program using OMRI approved insecticides spinosad, pyrethrum and neem against blueberry maggot.
3. create a pheromone trapping system for oriental beetle.
4. assess new management tools for disease suppression.
Several cultural approaches were implemented and found initially effective in this long-term study. In restoring abandoned blueberry blocks into organically approved programs through bush-hogging old plants, regrowth has been very vigorous and relatively free of scale, aphids and diseases. In initiating a regular mowing regime on walkways of established plantings, native grasses and orchardgrass have shown to dominate broadleaf weeds and serve well for foot and machine traffic. In new plantings, 2 species of fine fescue are showing good growth and suppression of crabgrass and foxtail weeds. The installation of trickle irrigation is allowing rapid growth of new plantings as well as the use of liquid nutrients and liquid sulphur changes in soil pH. In-row weed problems are being addressed with regular use of a very effective rotary cultivator. Also, a long-term study compares various mulches, all having good initial results. These mulches include pine chips, hardwood chips, coffee grinds, cocoa grinds, tea leaf compost, municipal leaf compost - with and without landscape fabric.
Blueberry Fruitfly Management Results
Spectacular results utilizing spinosad have been found in controlling adult egg deposition into blueberry and subsequently providing maggot free organic blueberries. Three methods have shown effectiveness. These methods are when spinosad is utilized within a resistance management program with pyrethrum and agri-neem, as a 4 spray seasonal program with spinosad alone, or as a new bait formulation that reduces both rate and spray coverage needs.
Oriental Beetle Management Results
Impressive results were found in collapsing a heavy adult population with the use of a mass disruption technique. The strategy used standard pheromone traps to detect the rise of first flight adult emergence and then the use of numerous point-source dispersal units to confuse male beetles and prevent them from finding mates. With thisprevention of mating , egg-laying in the soil is presumed to be very low. Damage to blueberry roots from the white beetle grubs is avoided.
Disease Management Results
10 different organically approved fungicide materials were applied in new, restored and established blocks of organic blueberries with similar results. With a wet spring, botrytis was a major problem in all fields throughout the state. Initial data indicates good suppression was provided by Bordeau, Serenade and Oxidate applications. At harvest, initial assays of post-harvest fruit show some suppresion of anthracnose with Armi-carb and Serenade.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The implementation and promotion of this program has had and continues to have an important impact in several ways :
1. Hands-on work for various management methods with the extension agents, specialists, work crew, volunteers and farmer greatly increased the overall applied knowledge base.
2. Over 100 participants attended a blueberry field day demonstrating these techniques which included conventional and organic growers, organizations like NOFA & Rodale, and extension agents. Survey reports indicate a large increase in learning and expected implementation.
3. Organic highbush blueberry acreage has increased from approximately 50 to 150 acres in NJ alone.
4. Out-of-state contacts for the the northeast region increased considerably through word-of-mouth, newspaper and newsletter articles.
5. Global contacts increased considerably through a summary article in the Rutgers Blueberry Bulletin.
6. A new and functional system has been created for organic highbush blueberry production that has minimized the major risks of the past during this one growing season in NJ.
7. Stimulus for expansion of this program throughout the northeast has begun.