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Archive | Pests

Falcons for Bird Abatement

Falcons are a predator of feathered farmyard dwellers, but they can be put to positive use on the farm. When it comes to employing creative solutions for naturally protecting crops on organic farms, perhaps the sky really is the limit. Duncan Family Farms, an organic grower located in Goodyear, Arizona, specializing in baby greens, kale, beets, chard and herbs is using an innovative method for bird abatement: falconry.

A falcon takes flight at Duncan Family Farms.

Duncan Family Farms has been working with Falcon Force since fall of 2016, according to Specialty Crop Manager Patty Emmert. Falcon Force has been practicing nuisance bird abatement for six years and operates in five states. Their clients include farms, orchards, vineyards, resorts and airports. Falcon Force uses the predator/prey relationship to eliminate pest birds, which can cause millions of dollars in damages. Falcon Force uses a team of trained falcons to intimidate and scare off nuisance birds such as the horned larks and pigeons that frequent the area. Continue Reading →

Bats for Natural Pest Control

Bats have a bad reputation. In reality, bats can be a farmer’s best friend by providing free and effective pest control services over farm fields and orchards.

A Mexican free-tailed bat (Tadarida rasiliensis) eating a moth. Courtesy Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat
Conservation International, www.batcon.org.

Most bat species in the United States are generalist insect predators, which means they will consume most medium-sized flying insects. Determining exactly what insects bats eat is often difficult, since bats feed in the sky at night. Until recently, scientists studied the diet of bats by dissecting fecal pellets under a microscope and identifying insect fragments, such as pieces of exoskeletons or legs, that survived the digestive tract of the bat.

With the exception of hard-shelled insects, including some stinkbugs and beetles, this rarely allowed for identification of insects to species level. Scientists could confirm that bats ate moths but could not confirm that bats were consuming specific pests of economic interest.

Modern techniques in the field of genetics now allow scientists to recover DNA from fecal samples and identify the insect remains found in bat feces by sequencing the insects’ DNA. Using these modern techniques, bat researchers across the country have identified to species level almost 200 insects that are consumed by bats, and many of these insects cause substantial economic loss.

Most of the insects consumed in the United States are beetles and moths. While it is generally the larval form of moths that damage crops, bats are benefiting the crops by consuming the adult flying forms, therefore preventing the insects from further reproducing.

Continue Reading →

Weed Control: Mulching Questions Answered

The Mulch and Soil Council have investigated the use of colorants in mulch products.

Weed control through mulching makes sense for many growers, but there are often questions about sourcing, safety and sustainability. May is a critical time for many gardeners to deal with existing or imminent weed issues before problems get totally out of control. Mulching is a key component of a multi-pronged approach to gaining the upper hand in the weed control battle.

Is Cypress Mulch Sustainable?

Shredded cypress is a popular mulching material for weed control because it is slow to decompose and the long strands lock together and don’t blow or float away easily. Attractive and natural looking, cypress mulch has many fans in the garden. The majestic swampy cypress forests across the Southeast, where most of the cypress mulch is harvested, are a true ecological sanctuary and face encroaching building development as more and more people flock to the Sunbelt. Gardeners are  now beginning to look at the source of their mulch and question the sustainability of cypress mulch harvesting.

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Compost Tea: A Remedy for What Injures Your Crops

A compost heap with kitchen food waste, animal manure, vegetables, fruit peel and green refuse.

Compost tea can serve multiple functions to develop healthy and fertile soil.

Combating disease on fruits and vegetables can be a frustrating experience, even for the most committed organic grower. A brief spell of adverse weather at just the wrong time can reduce peaches to unappetizing brown mush, apples to hard scabby nuggets, and cucumber vines to wilting, mildew-covered disasters. Organically approved disease control materials that are effective and do not demand too rigorous an application schedule are hard to find. So, what can you do when your grapevine gazes at you imploringly, begging for relief from yet another battle with botrytis?

Perhaps a spot of compost tea would be just what the doctor ordered!

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Fly Deterrents: Manage Odors Without Pesticides

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Jeff Henry demonstrates official application form of soft rock phosphate as a fly management tactic.

Every farmer knows that having manure odor management and fly deterrent tactics are essential for a good quality of life, for both humans and animals. But getting there too often depends on chemicals, pesticides and toxic methods. It does not have to be this way.

And now is the right time to develop those fly management tactics. Manure odors and fly populations are at their highest levels during summer’s warmth. During summer in livestock shelter areas, with even small accumulations of fresh and decaying manure, the odor-fly relationship is cause-and-effect as manure and urine odors attract a variety of types of flies.

This we know: fresh air that is free of manure odors does not attract flies, and manure that does not produce an odor does not attract flies. Can an ideal manure odor management and fly prevention program for livestock shelter areas exist in farm practice? The ideal program results in a livestock shelter area (barn, stables, loafing shed) so free of flies, full of fresh air and chemically safe that one could comfortably picnic there with family and friends. Our image of ideal success — the livestock shelter as picnic zone — guides us to its establishment in the real world.

Real Foundations for Manure Odor Management and Fly Deterrents

The tactics to start with are: (1) a cluster of standard, low-risk, fly-prevention tools to decrease an existing fly population. Several weak items working together can support each other’s actions; (2) an emphasis on decreasing fly attractant levels typical in livestock areas (the volatiles produced by manure, urine, decaying bedding material and spoiled hay/feeds), thereby preventing fly population increases and usually ensuring its decrease. Decreased concentration levels of fly attractants also make the program easier to accomplish by decreasing the need for the prevention items in (1). Further, with consistently very low levels of manure’s attractant volatiles, area fly traps’ attractant baits become relatively more effective.

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Breeding Wildness Back for Resilience

Cherry tomatoesWild tomatoes are better able to protect themselves against the destructive whitefly than our modern, commercial varieties, according to a study published in the academic journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development. Researchers show that in our quest for larger, redder, longer-lasting tomatoes we have inadvertently bred out key characteristics that help the plant defend itself against predators. Led by Newcastle University, UK, the research shows that wild tomatoes have a dual line of defense against attack; an initial mechanism which discourages the whitefly from settling on the plant and a second line of defense which happens inside the plant where a chemical reaction causes the plant sap to “gum up” blocking the whitefly’s feeding tube. Thomas McDaniel, who led the research, says the findings highlight the natural resistance of wild plant varieties and suggests we need to “breed some of that wildness back in” instead of continuously looking for new methods of pest control.

This article appears in the April 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.