Developing Integrated Pest Management Protocols for Northeast Organic Apple Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2010: $14,210.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Peter Jentsch
Poma Tech Inc.

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: apples, general tree fruits


  • Crop Production: application rate management
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Pest Management: biological control, biorational pesticides, botanical pesticides, mating disruption
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Apples are an intensively managed perennial crop. In most commercial apple production, a broad range of synthetic pesticides are applied repeatedly throughout the growing season to manage the complex of insects and diseases affecting apple. Challenges in Northeastern fruit production can be attributed to the abundant species of pest insect and diseases that thrive under New York conditions where orchards receive more than 40 inches of yearly rainfall. The resulting pest pressure is a major reason for the small acreage of organic apples found in New York State as compared to organic production in the Pacific Northwest, California and many other fruit production regions where growers can avoid pests by producing apples in arid climates. Additional factors contributing to low levels of organic production in NY include the cost of organic production materials that can exceed by three fold those of commercial production, rising application costs for higher numbers of seasonal applications compared to conventional production, reduced efficacies of available organic pest management materials, and the smaller fruit size and total yield that results from the effects of organic chemical thinners.

    The organic pome fruit producers in the Hudson Valley region have maintained profitability through low volume market niches in and around the major metropolitan markets. These markets provide higher returns than conventional markets, thereby allowing growers to withstand lower yields, higher pest damage levels, smaller fruit size, superficial summer diseases and late season internal fruit injury from insects. For local organic markets to sustain profits and build consumer demand, fruit yield and quality must improve beyond these present conditions.

    The apple maggot, a native insect species in the Northeastern United States, is one of the most destructive pests of apple production. The adult fly emerges late June on through to September, ovipositing beneath the skin of the fruit. The larva hatches, burrowing through the apple destroying the fruit as it feeds. Conventional orchards employing synthetic insecticides can provide adequate control of this insect. Currently there are very few strategies approved for use in organic apple production for AM management. Tactics include late season applications of Surround WP, a hydrophobic kaolin clay, which acts as a barrier film to foliage and fruit. It reduces reflectance of foliar and fruit colors attractive to insects, and the particle texture repels insect oviposition and feeding. Surround WP has no toxicity to pests, beneficial insects or non-target organisms. Other materials used to manage the AM include formulations of the naturalite compound spinosad A&D that is derived by fermentation of the soil organism Saccharopolyspora spinosa and that is the primary component of Entrust and GF-120. New control tactics for this pest that are being developed for use in organic apple production systems include trap and kill technologies through the use of Entrust as the toxicant bait.

    This newly developed apple maggot management tool, derived from studies initiated by Professor Ron Propkey uses a pesticide treated sphere (PTS)1. The PTS mimics a mature apple in visual attraction (red color and spherical form), incorporating a ‘dispenser cap’ containing volatile elements (70% sucrose, 10% ammonium carbonate), and toxicant (0.5% A.I. spinosad, Entrust) for attracting and killing the adult fly (Image 1). The most recent version of this 3” attracticidal red sphere, called ‘Curveball’, contains a paraffin wax cap impregnated with volatile elements, sugar feeding stimulants, and Entrust toxicant. The cap releases its contents and coats the sphere with fresh solution of sugar and insecticide after each wetting event. It appears more effective when a 5-component apple volatile lure is hung near the Curveball. USDA and researchers in the Northeast are presently testing the ‘Curveball’ for efficacy. Adult flies feeding on the solution that coats the sphere experience >85% mortality within 48 hours, with continued high levels of mortality after 40 cm of rainfall and 12 weeks of deployment in laboratory bioassay studies and field trials conducted in the Northeast.

    This project aims to increase yield of organic apple orchards via improved methods for optimizing crop load, and by significantly reducing insect pest pressure through the use of pheromone mating disruption technologies for internal lepidopteran management, proper timing of insect barrier film, and employment of ‘Curveball’ spheres to manage apple maggot. Sprayers will be modified by replacing hollow disk nozzles with air-induction nozzles to reduce off target drift and increase coverage. Sprayer calibration will be adjusted to improve and optimize material effectiveness. These measures are expected to increase the quality of organic fruit by reducing levels of insect damage and increasing fruit size and production volume, thereby leading to improved profitability. Participating growers using OMRI approved pest management materials will increase proportions of pest free fruit by 30-50% while increasing marketable yield by over 200%.

    Extension outreach to Northeast organic apple producers will include on-demand web -based video vignettes of recommendations, written protocols for organic production methods, and oral presentations to the NYS pome fruit producer audience through field meetings and winter fruit schools.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Acceptable levels of organic management of the Hudson Valley seasonal complex of insects was observed during a one-year organic apple pest control study conducted at Cornell University’s Hudson Valley Laboratory (HVL) in 2006. In that study, 15 apple varieties were evaluated for insect and disease damage using both conventional and organic pest management control measures. Based on conservative insect and disease action thresholds the block yielded organic apple with 60% pest free fruit through the use of OMRI approved insecticides and fungicides 3. A total of 19 separate applications were made to the organic block. The cost to obtain organic control in this study exceeded $1100.00 per acre. In this study, the use of liquid lime sulfur as a blossom thinner to reduce crop load led to smaller fruit size compared to commercial thinning products. This decrease in fruit size reduced the overall organic yield, diminishing the returns of the crop.

    In fruit evaluations conducted in a five-acre block of organic apple at Prospect Farm in 2009, we observed only 4.3% of Honeycrisp fruit to be free of insect damage at harvest. Very high levels of apple maggot infestation, monitored by trap catches, produced extremely high damage levels to the fruit. Individually, apple maggot tunneling caused 89.0% loss, the internal lepidopteran complex (CM, OFM) causing 31.9% loss, PC contributed to 21% loss and the external feeding lepidopteran complex (OBLR, RBLR, GFW) contributed to 25.4% loss.

    Thirteen applications to manage diseases employed alternating applications of liquid lime sulfur using 1.5 qt/A and copper using 1.0 lb/A throughout the season. Applications to manage insect pests at this site were initiated at petal fall using the kaolin clay product Surround WP at 25 lb/A at 14-day intervals for a total of three applications. Seven subsequent applications of Entrust applied using 1.5 oz/A were made on 1st, 17th, 24th July, 4th, 11th, 19th, 27th August. These applications, designed to control apple maggot and late season internal lepidopteran populations, failed to provide acceptable levels of control.

    In this project we propose to employ strategies used in the 2006 HVL study and USDA Curveball technology studies to shore up aspects of insect pest management on two organic farms, Westwind Orchard in Accord, NY, and Clarkes Farm in Modena, NY. We intend to focus on increasing the insect management during two critical periods of the season to control three primary fruit feeding insect pest groups in these Hudson Valley organic orchards. We plan on using fewer applications than those described in the 2009 HVL study by employing alternative late season pest management so as to decrease application costs. Decreasing late season use of Surround WP will also reduce the cost necessitated from washing of fruit to remove clay residue.
    Early season management will consist of two strategies. The first aspect of management will begin with two applications during the pre-bloom period of Surround WP at 50 lb/A. Applications will increase deposition of the material relative to 2009 management in these orchards by decreasing travel speed from 2.8 to 2.0 mph and increasing gallonage of water per acre by 100%, from 100 to 200 GPA, all of which will be delivered by NOFA certified application equipment. This strategy will increase the stratification the material on the foliage, trunk and scaffold limbs. These applications will reduce the incidence of RAA, OBLR, GFW, PC, and EAS. Three applications will follow post bloom to reduce PC and CM injury.

    The second strategy will incorporate the use of mating disruption of the CM and OFM populations beginning at the biofix of the OFM (first flight). This typically occurs at the tight cluster phenological stage of Macintosh. The use of combination Isomate CM/OFM Twin-Tube tie dispensers in pheromone mating disruption orchards have been shown to be as or more effective in comparative studies to commercially applied insecticides. In both of these 5-acre orchard sites, the sites lend themselves well to mating disruption. Should fruit assessment observations exceed economic thresholds or if pheromone trap shutdown indicates pheromone mating disruption has been breeched, that will necessitate intervention applications of Dipel DF 10.3, Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. kurstaki (Bt), or Entrust during periods of larval presence.

    Project Methods: Project assessment will include evaluating the pest management program with regards to material use, timing of management and efficacy of organic applications in three orchard sites. These include the ‘naturally grown’ ‘Westwind Farm’, one certified organic orchard ‘Clarkes Organic Orchard’ and one research orchard. These will be compared to commercial orchards or ‘standard’ commercial plots on multiple commercial apple varieties.


    1. Increase volume and decrease pump pressure and sprayer speed using appropriate calibration techniques. Achieve 200 GPA, 2.0 mph tractor speed and 150 pump psi prior to beginning the 2010 pest management program in each of the two organic orchards and the experimental site. Incorporate and test the use of drift inhibiting air induction nozzles reduce off target drift of organic pesticides and increased efficacy of seasonal pest management materials.

    2. Evaluate a full-season organic spray program consisting of pheromone mating disruption, sulfur, liquid lime-sulfur with crop oil, copper sulfate, kaolin clay, spinosad, and BT in controlling diseases, insects, and mites on standard and scab resistant apple cultivars in three sites using conventional application equipment.
    3. Evaluate a liquid lime-sulfur application with crop oil for effectiveness in adjusting crop load (fruit thinning) compared to hand thinning on standard and scab resistant apple cultivars.

    4. Determine if the products applied for pest control cause unacceptable fruit russetting on some cultivars.

    5. Project evaluation: Using data from the objectives above, generate an economic analysis of the organic spray program, publish final results, and improve recommendations and protocols for organic pest control in the Cornell Tree Fruit Management Guide.

    Project’s cooperating farmers: Participating growers include Steve Clarke, of Prospect Orchard. His family has been farming in Milton since the 1940's. At that time, large amounts of small fruits, cherries, peaches and grapes were grown at Prospect Hill Orchards along with apples and pears. Gradually, the focus shifted to cherries, apples and pears and the more labor intensive and riskier small fruits and grapes were phased out. Apples and pears have predominated for nearly forty years. Steve will be making applications of organic materials to the 5-acre organic orchard containing 8 commercial standard and scab resistant varieties. He will also be maintaining commercial acreage using conventional methods, allowing us to statistical analyze plot differences.
    Fabio and Laura Chizzola will also be participants, having owned Westwind Orchard for over ten-years. The orchard lay fallow for 5 years prior to ownership and their intent to grow organic fruit focuses on production with the fewest possible pest management inputs. Presently, fruit production is certified ‘naturally grown’ using OMRI pest management materials. They have six acres in apple, producing Early Macintosh, Macintosh, Cortland, Ida Red, Stayman, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious. The trees are thirty to fifty years old on standard size rootstock. Fabio will be constructing a perimeter deer fence and planting 70 new scab resistant varieties, including Crimson Crisp, Enterprise, Goldrush, Honeycrisp, on G11 in a high density slender spindle planting system. His goal is to produce 300 bushels by the end of the 2nd year on this system using organic production methods.

    The third site will be Cornell University's Hudson Valley Laboratory in Highland, NY. An entomology experimental block consisting of a five-acre orchard of 24 - four tree plots replicated in four blocks for statistical analysis in a complete replicated block design. Varieties include Ginger Gold, McIntosh, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious. A one acre block will be planted in 2010 that will include disease resistant varieties of Crimson Crisp, Enterprise, Goldrush, Florina Querina, Honeycrisp, Liberty, Nova Easygro, Priscilla, Pristine, Red Free and Scarlett O’Hare on G11 in a high density slender spindle planting system. Fruit from these trees will be produced using commercial, sustainable and organic production methods as a comparison to both the Westwind and Clarkes organic orchards.
    Generally, Hudson Valley farms have small acreage with high border to interior orchard ratios. They border abandoned orchards harboring high levels of insect and disease Inoculum and suffer from the ‘boarder effect’, intense insect damage along the orchard perimeter. In 2009 Westwind Orchard experienced 100% loss while Prospect Orchard organic farm harvested 4% clean fruit.
    Following a year with significant pressure and loss from these pests will prove both timely and an effective teaching experience for participating producers.

    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.