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Dordt College, Ocheda Orchard collaborate on pest management research

June 30, 2004

Research conducted by two Dordt College agriculture majors at Ocheda Orchard near Worthington, Minn., may help to develop more environmentally friendly pest control methods for raising apples.

Lindsay Cameron, Rugby, ND, and Chris Boomsma, South Holland, IL, compared the conventional pesticide control of harmful insects in apple orchards with Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods. Their research indicates harmful insects such as the Codling Moth may be controlled by introducing a combination of alternative methods including: pheromone mating disruptors, parasitoid wasps that hatch within and consume host moth eggs, and crops that attract and feed beneficial insect populations.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has posted the research results of the two-year project on their website.

The research was conducted through an agriculture directed-study course offered at Dordt College, comparable to what some universities refer to as an “undergraduate thesis.” With funding from both Dordt College and the Ocheda Orchard, the students each contributed more than 100 hours to preliminary research; acquiring project supplies; contacting researchers, producers and experts; performing weekly field activities; analyzing the data; writing and presenting their findings, and seeking publication. Chris Boomsma and Lindsay Cameron

“The Dordt Agriculture Department has been exceptional at not only teaching us, but also allowing us to put our knowledge to use,” said Chris Boomsma regarding the project. “They gave us the unique opportunity to put our ‘book knowledge’ to practical use and therefore hopefully allowed us to help the apple producers of the region.”

According to Lindsey Cameron, the goal of IPM techniques is to reduce harmful environmental effects of pesticides, etc., while reducing labor and input costs of the farmer. That is accomplished by integrating biological and non-biological controls in a field or in this case, an orchard.

The concept for the study originated with Val Nystrom, a Dordt College alumna who is the daughter of Chuck Nystrom, owner and operator of Ocheda Orchard. Boomsma and Cameron liked the idea of conducting research on a crop less common in the area than corn and soybeans, and one that has not been subjected to extensive agricultural practice research.

“As the public and growers alike begin to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of conventional pest control practices, more individuals are becoming increasingly concerned about the effects of pesticides on food and the environment,” commented Boomsma. “With the rise in the popularity of certified organic foods, we felt that it would be beneficial to examine the pest control measures necessary to grow food in this setting.”

Based on observations and data collected during the 2003 growing season, the research duo concluded that IPM methods of pest control can produce comparable results to conventional methods, with similar cost, and with the added advantage of being more environmentally friendly. They noted, however, that the credibility of the findings is limited because the study only involves one growing season, in a year when the codling moth population (the prominent and most damaging apple pest) was unusually low due to low precipitation levels. Before growers implement IPM methods of pest control in apple orchards, further scientific experimentation must be done to fully test the benefits and drawbacks of this alternative method of pest control.

“Ocheda Orchard was incredibly helpful,” noted Boomsma. “Few orchards would have donated the time and resources that the Ocheda Orchard supplied us with. From start to finish, Chuck Nystrom was always there helping us out.”

Experimentation at Ocheda Orchard required a designated alternative plot, where grass lanes were replaced with buckwheat, red clover, and a mix of several flowering species officially named Good Bug Blend®. These crops were intended to attract beneficial insects, which in turn control the harmful insect population. Until these lanes flowered, an alternative food source of corn syrup, brewer’s yeast, powdered milk and Good Bug Blend® was smeared on wooden stakes that were capped with plastic yogurt cups to protect them from precipitation.

Throughout the growing season, sticky trap cards and pheromone traps were placed throughout the orchard. These were then frozen and analyzed to compare the number and types of insects in both regions of the orchard.

During apple harvest any apples with evidence of insect damage were weighed separately to determine percentage of apples sustaining damage compared to the total pounds of apples harvested.

The field research, especially in a beautiful orchard such as the Nystrom’s, was a pleasure said Cameron and Boomsma. Both appreciated the opportunity to do research in an environment where actual production occurs.

Chris Boomsma received a B.A. in Plant Science from Dordt College in December. He is currently working for the U.S. Department of Energy at Argonne National Laboratory. Chris will be attending Purdue University in the fall of 2004 to work toward a Ph.D. in the area of crop physiology.

Lindsay Cameron received a B.A. in Plant Science and Theology from Dordt College in May. Lindsay plans on either pursuing agricultural development work overseas or working in plant research or horticulture here in the U.S. She has applied for an internship at ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization), a non-profit organization in Florida that researches and develops new food crops to be used in developing countries in cooperation with missionaries. She is also considering a position with Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago or further education in horticulture or international agriculture.

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