Growing Practices, IPM, and Food Safety

A bit about how we grow at Three Springs...


When it comes right down to it, you need to have a passion for growing to succeed in agriculture.  On our farm, not only are we passionate about growing your food, we also take a great deal of pride in the methods used to grow that food.  We strive everyday to provide food for our customers that is not only nutritious, healthy, and safe, but measures up to our strict standards of quality.

peach pruneTo accomplish this, we go the extra mile to keep ourselves educated on the newest and "greenest" growing practices available.  We use practices including Pheromone Mating Disruption, biological control, and bioremediation to reduce our impact on the environment.  

So is that organic?  Well, all of those methods I mentioned are used in organic tree fruit production.  While our environment is well-suited to tree fruit agriculture, it isn't altogether ideal from a disease management perspective.  The rains that nourish our trees also leave lingering droplets on the fruit and leaves - each one a potential environment for disease.  In arid, Western growing areas, growers pay for the water rights needed to irrigate their soils due to the lack of rain in those areas.  This irrigation is applied solely to the roots and the diseases Eastern growers struggle with rarely occur.  In our microclimate, these diseases have proven difficult to control organically.  Our best solution for maintaining good growing practices in our environment is Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

What is IPM?

To put it simply, IPM is a strategy for managing pests that considers every possible remedy to a pest problem, giving preference to those remedies with the fewest effects on the environment.  Integrated Pest Management is not limited to agricultural settings - the pests being managed can be everything from weeds in your garden, termites in the Public Library, to European Red Mites at Three Springs Fruit Farm.  IPM can be implemented to solve all of these pest problems and more.  

Greg Wenk putting out trapsAs IPM growers, the most important thing we do is scout and monitor for problems.  Systemically placed in tree branches all over our farm are over 80 pheromone traps that get checked every week.  The number of insects we catch each week is recorded and cross referenced to data that models the life cycle of these pests.  Only then do we make a calculated decision as to what strategy, if any, is the best.  Scouting is also done for additional insect species we don't trap as well as intensive disease monitoring.  Only when a problem exists do we begin to consider different methods to protect the quality of our crop.

As IPM teaches, we exhaust every alternative before any spray is applied.  For instance, each spring we place thousands of ties and dispensers that slowly release artificial insect pheromone into our orchards.  The result of this is thousands upon thousands of confused male insects who cannot find a female and mate, lower pest populations, and fewer sprays!  This tactic is called Pheromone Mating Disruption and its become the backbone of how we control insects at Three Springs Fruit Farm.

crysopid 'lacewings', a beneficial generalist wandered into our trapsWhen sprays are necessary (as much as we wish it weren't so), we go to great lengths to choose products that have a minimal effect on the environment.  The products we prefer to spray do not persist in the environment and have a minimal effect on the natural enemies of the pests we try to control.  There are many insects and other creatures in our orchards willing to assist us in eliminating pests and we're happy to help them any way we can!  After years of choosing these reduced-risk products to spray, we discovered we had built a population of the mite predator T. Pyri.  These tiny insects are eager to eat as many harmful European Red Mites and Two-Spot Spider Mites as their bellies can hold.  So, for their benefit, we only use products that will not have an adverse effect on their population, even going as far as physically transferring them to blocks where more mites exist or their numbers were slow to catch on.

So whether it's using a green manure in place of fumigation or devloping existing populations of Ladybugs and Lacewings (pictured above), Three
Springs remains committed to using IPM to provide the best produce to you and the healthiest agroecosystem in which to grow it.  Afterall, when it comes right Food Alliance Certifieddown to it, it's our workplace we're talking about!

In 2010, our growing practices were inspected and evaluated under the strict standards of The Food Alliance.  Having passed this independent, third party inspection, we became the first farm of our kind in the mid-Atlantic region to be a Food Alliance certified farm.  This certification verifies our efforts to reduce pesticide use, conserve soil and water, create and maintain good wildlife habitat, and be good, socially responsible employers.

This video we shot for Crop Life America details many of the topics covered above!

Food Safety Concerns

Food Safety continues to be a topic of much debate as contaminants and recalls from large processing and handling facilities increase each year.  While the problem could to continue to be a non-issue for those who have embraced the buy local movement in agriculture here in the Eastern US, we've made an effort to be proactive about these concerns.  We're voluntary five year participants in the third party Primus Labs audit for food safety.


Further Reading:

Investigate further with some in-depth reading on growing practices in our Growing Greener Blog!