[NAFEX] Organic vs Standard Spray Programs

Karen Tillou arboretum at homeorchardsociety.org
Mon Apr 14 15:59:46 EDT 2008

i have so many questions and sidelines that pertain to this/these  
subjects, i don't even know where to begin:

disclaimer: i live in oregon; no curculio, little fireblight, no  
summer humidity, etc.  i've never grown fruit back east, though i grew  
up in buffalo NY.  i also believe oil is just going to get scarcer and  

the thing i love about nafex is that it is a group for commercial and  
backyard growers alike.  this is an issue that to me comes down amidst  
those professional/amateur lines: who out there in the east is  
successfully growing organic fruit? are you in your backyard, or big- 
time commercial, or inbetween, taking fruit to a farmer's market or  
restaurant when you have it...

what is successful fruit?  does it mean no bugs, or does it mean  
enough bug free fruit to have some for storage and eating out of hand,  
enough wormy  but ok fruit for canning/drying, and enough wormy/scabby  
fruit to juice with and make cider with too?  does it mean some years  
are boom and some are bust?

what are the bug tolerances for you smaller commercial growers - can/ 
do you sell buggy/scabby seconds to home canners at the farmers  
markets? is it legal to sell juice made with a wormy apple (wormy but  
sound; not rotting, of course...)?

i like a lot what rivka said the economics of organic growers, and  
what the cornell study did (or did not) assume with regards to spray  
programs.  i think the universities and extensions are somewhat locked  
into the conventional model of spray regimes, and don't always take  
into account the multi-pronged approach of good organic growing. i  
think it invites me as an organic grower to look very critically at a  
university study saying it isn't cost effective. maybe it isn't cost  
effective from a conventional standpoint, selling to the middleman who  
ships it to place X, 2000 miles away, but is it cost effective when  
you are selling direct to your customers, integrating a lot of  
techniques for pest/disease control, and not putting all your hopes  
into one basket (apples), but managing a diverse farm/multiple crops?

so many of the old-time cultural and mechanical ways of controlling  
bugs/diseases from pre-WWII are really labor intensive, but are they  
worth it on the small scale?  someone mentioned bagging as totally  
worth their labor dollars (was it jim?) - is anyone doing the wacky  
knocking curculio out onto tarps? is that worth the time?  running  
animals under trees for june drop control, windfalls, larvae  
overwinterers?  we bag here for scab and the codling moth and apple  
maggot, but i have yet to introduce animals (poultry or pigs) into the  
orchard as it is on public proerty, i don't live there, i'm not there  
every day, etc.  someday, i hope to work that concept into an orchard.
thinking out loud,

oregon city, OR - zone 8a and wet

On Apr 13, 2008, at 2:48 PM, Road's End Farm wrote:

> Hi Dennis,
> I downloaded the actual study, which was linked to in the link you  
> sent. I don't grow apples, so I'm not the best person to comment on  
> this (again, I'd suggest you contact people actually growing organic  
> apples in your state; if I remember a previous discussion on this  
> correctly I found several by googling); but I did notice the  
> following:
> First of all, this is not actually a comparison of an organically  
> maintained orchard to a conventionally maintained orchard. The  
> entire orchard was conventionally maintained in the use of  
> fertilizers and herbicides. A number of trees within the block were  
> then, for one year only, given a partially organic spray program as  
> far as insecticides and thinning were concerned (even some of the  
> "organic" insecticide sprays were substances not approved for  
> organic production), while other trees within the same orchard were  
> conventionally sprayed with insecticides and thinners.
> Organic growers spent years arguing with Cornell about such "trials"  
> in their vegetable plots.
> Cornell finally agreed, and set up a separate organically managed  
> farm. (I don't know whether they have any apples there or not.) The  
> setup used in the study you quoted is the proper setup for  
> experiments involving single-item variables; but organic management  
> is not a single-item variable, it's a whole-field technique, and not  
> just because organic growers are being nitpicky. Much of organic  
> pest management is provided by naturally occurring beneficial  
> organisms. The field as a whole needs to be hospitable to  
> beneficials, and it can take several years for the populations to  
> build up. Beneficials can be affected by soil conditions as well as  
> by the presence or absence of sprays applied above ground in the  
> general area, and so may be affected by growing techniques that do  
> not involve obvious insecticides. Attractiveness of fruit to pests  
> can also be affected by fertilization and other growing techniques.
> Another couple of points, less major than the above, but they did  
> occur to me:
> -- The size difference in organic fruit was attributed by the study  
> to the use of a thinning spray. I don't know how many organic  
> growers actually use this spray to thin. This would have affected  
> the yield results. (They also may have used too much of it, as they  
> say the organic thinning spray reduced the number of fruit per tree  
> to fewer than the number on the conventionally thinned trees.)
> -- I don't know how many organic apple growers actually use this  
> many sprays overall. Because something is listed as permissible  
> doesn't mean that all growers are using it. (Of course, I also don't  
> know whether most conventional apple growers actually use this many  
> sprays, either.) If growers who do have high levels of beneficial  
> insects in practice use fewer sprays, this would affect their cost  
> comparisons. (I bring this up because my experience with vegetable  
> crops is that most organic growers use far less in the way of  
> insecticides than someone looking at a list of possible-use  
> materials might conclude; and because I have seen comparisons of  
> cost or environmental impact which assumed that it was common for  
> organic growers to use repeated applications of materials that in  
> fact many didn't use at all, and most of those who did used less  
> often. Again, I don't do apples, and don't know how the situation  
> compares.)
> -- There were clearly varietal differences in results, though I  
> couldn't figure out from the study to what extent this affected the  
> overall results, as varietal differences, as near as I could tell,  
> were given for organic and conventional treatments combined, rather  
> than separately. Choosing the right varieties for the specific farm  
> is an important part of organic technique. There are certainly  
> varieties that can't be successfully grown organically, in any given  
> climate; a fair answer to the question of whether apples can be  
> grown organically in the Northeast, and if so at what cost, would  
> require specifying what varietes were being discussed.
> As I understand it, apples are one of the hardest crops to grow  
> organically in this area. However, I don't think this particular  
> study actually proves much of anything on the subject.
> --Rivka
> Finger Lakes NY; zone 5 mostly
> On Apr 9, 2008, at 6:46 PM, <dmnorton at royaloakfarmorchard.com> wrote:
>> Here is a excerpt from the latest Scaffolds IPM newsletter from  
>> Cornell that I though everyone might find interesting:
>> "In summary, pesticides plus application costs totaled $650/A for  
>> the standard program as compared with $1,173/A for the organic  
>> program. Total yield per acre (including fruit damaged by pests)  
>> was 209, 409, and 861 bushels per acre for the unsprayed, organic,  
>> and standard treatments, respectively. Pest control costs per  
>> bushel were $2.98 for fruit from the organic block compared with  
>> $0.76 for the standard. Results from this trial show that pest-free  
>> apples can be produced organically in New York, but organic  
>> producers will likely need at least a 400% sales premium compared  
>> with standard growers, due to the high costs and reduced yields  
>> associated with organic pest control. Further research may lead to  
>> cost reductions and improved productivity for organic systems, but  
>> farmers currently considering a switch to organic apple production  
>> should verify that their prospective buyers will be willing to pay  
>> a signifi cant premium for organic fruit."
>> To read the complete article go to  http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/ent/scaffolds/2008/080331.html
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