Why We Do What We Do!
If you’ve landed here, you might be the type that likes to support local producers. Maybe you like to know your farmer. Or maybe you just clicked on a really good looking link. Either way, welcome!
We’re proud to grow safe, amazing food for you and your family, but we also want you to know how and why we do it. We’re lucky in Canada to have one of the safest, most efficient food systems in the world with some of the best producers around. Some are organic, some are strictly conventional and some, like us, stick it out somewhere in the middle.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
In our operation we use what’s commonly called Integrated Pest Management or IPM for short. IPM can basically be thought of like a toolbox. The entire goal is to try and keep bugs, diseases and other pests below levels that would cause us to lose our crop using the tools in your toolbox. This is easily one of the hardest jobs in farming because you are constantly juggling all of these tools as well as staying on top of new technologies or tools to put in your toolbox.
One of the first things we do is look at what are acceptable levels of a pest and then monitor for it. Lots of this research into setting what are called “thresholds” has already been done but for a many crops, you have to set the point where you’re comfortable saying “I’m going to lose too much of my crop to not try something new”. By doing this you ensure that you’re not trying to fix something that isn’t broke and you’re also able to set a define where you move onto the next tool in your toolbox.
Scouting or keeping tabs on what is going on in your field is one of the foundations of IPM and how we use these thresholds. This means walking through the field, counting the number of insects or times you see a disease and keeping track of it over time. By following this process, you not only learn which pests cause you more trouble but also when to expect them and prepare for them.
Prevention and Mechanical Control
So lets try using an example to make this easier to understand. Let say we know we have issues with cabbage looper every year. In an IPM program that means we’ve tracked it over time and we know approximately when it will become a problem. In this case we can start by trying to prevent it. Maybe we plant the crops affected by it at a different time, or we do a little bit of mechanical tillage to disrupt its life cycle, cover it with some row cover (a giant blanket), or adjust how much nutrients or plant food the crop gets.
If this doesn’t work, and you end up with more than your threshold, you move on to another tool in the toolbox. This could include a biological control like insects, fungi, nematodes (tiny little worms) or viruses that attacks the pest. These can be released in the crop like ladybugs or praying mantis, or in the case of cabbage looper, we might use a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt and spray it on. This bacteria is non-toxic to humans and only affects certain insects, so often its called a “soft” insecticide as it has a low risk of hurting the environment. Thanks to the organic movement and lobbying of insecticide companies, these chemical are HUGE right at the moment, with more and more coming on line every year, which is fantastic not only for us as producers, but also for our customers and the environment.
The one problem with these chemicals is that they often break down quickly (no residual) and are usually not systemic (meaning they don’t move in the plant). What does that mean to a farmer? That means they have to be applied evenly and frequently. In our example, Bt, which is very commonly used and can be very effective, is very easily broken down by the sun. So it has to be applied multiple times throughout the entire period cabbage loopers are out.
So if our cabbage loopers continue to be a problem and get to the point where we might actually lose our crop, we might consider spraying a conventional insecticide. This decision is not taken lightly and reflects the last component of IPM; responsible use. If we do feel we have to use a conventional insecticide, just as with the Bt, we’re going to read the label that comes with it and follow the correct application procedures. That includes safety gear, how its applied (is it sprayed on the plant, poured on the soil, dusted on), as well as how much and how often it can be applied for example.
What’s This Mean For You?
IPM is ultimately about sustainability; sustainable production of food, sustainable use of the land we farm and the products we use. In the end, this means that not only do you get a safe, healthy product, but we have the satisfaction in knowing it was produced in the most responsible manner we know how.