From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published November 8, 2013 10:30 AM

Eco-Fruit Farming: Reducing Pesticides while Promoting Best Farming Techniques

In a 2005 study conducted by the Pesticide Data Program (under the US Department of Agriculture), out of 774 apples that were analyzed in the United States, 727 samples detected residues of pesticides - that's a whopping 98%! Furthermore, apples rank number 1 on the Environmental Working Group's "Dirty Dozen" list, which ranks fruits and vegetables on their levels of pesticides.

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Why are these colorful fruits laced with so many pesticides? In order for farmers to have a successful growing season, they often use pesticides and insecticides on their produce, which has positive effects for crop yields, but also has hazardous negative effects on the environment and potentially for consumers. 

The problem is two-fold: apple growers want to use the best techniques to grow their crops, and agricultural scientists want to reduce pesticide use.

In an effort to resolve these issues for apple produce in Wisconsin, a joint collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems (CIAS) and several apple growers have established the Eco-Fruit Program.

The Eco-Fruit Program's main focus is reducing grower reliance on pesticides that are hazardous to themselves, consumers and the environment, while also supporting growers in finding the best farming practices.

"Ten years ago we would have been completely reliant on tree phenology and the calendar, but now we are completely data-driven," says Tom Ferguson, a Wisconsin orchard owner. He notes that apple and berry farming techniques have changed dramatically in the past decade.

Partnership with the Eco-Fruit Program has increased the growers' exposure to new equipment, and furthered opportunities to learn about the newest and most effective ways to reduce pest exposure to crops. These new techniques fall under a strategy known as "integrated pest management" or IPM.

IPM includes using weather data to predict where disease may emerge and to anticipate conditions where insect pests may start to cut into profits. Growers also analyze data from insect traps to decide whether and when to manage pests. Pest management strategies using IPM vary from disrupting insect mating to planting disease-resistant trees, or managing insect communities to encourage those species that naturally feed on the pests.

According to recent statistics, the Eco-Fruit Project has been successful in reducing pesticide risk to human health and impact on the environment by 46 percent while also increasing reliance on integrated pest management strategies by 54 percent.

Since the program was spearheaded in 2000, it has served nearly 100 apple and berry growers from more than 20 counties.

Read more at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Apple image via Shutterstock.

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