We are not an organic farm, but instead we follow integrated pest management which we believe to be a responsible way to producing food. Our management practices incorporate many techniques that are integral to any good farming.
We collect organic matter from landscapers and leaves from municipalities and compost it. We use the compost on many of the acres we farm, applying about 1,000 tons each year. We build organic matter and improve soil quality through the use of compost, minimum till, and cover crops.
Following sweet corn we plant red clover to increase organic matter, improve soil texture and reduce erosion which also maintains soil flora and fauna (fungus and bugs). Our spring runoff water is accumulated in a dammed pond and used as irrigation for our crops. Overhead irrigation is only used for frost protection in the spring, a more sustainable trickle irrigation is used to provide plants with water during dry spells in the summer.
You may notice in our fields more weeds than you’re used to seeing, farmers generally consider weeds as undesirable because they are competing with their crops for space, nutrients, water and sun, thus lowering production from a given field. However it also requires a lot of work and money to remove weeds, either by hoeing by hand, cultivating with tractors or spraying herbicide. We choose to do as little as possible due to the economic demands, as well as trying to limit the amount of herbicide used, while still ensuring we have a healthy crop. We also believe that if there was nothing but apples in the orchard, the bugs have no option but to eat apples, by giving them other options we can reduce the amount of insect damage without having to use as much insecticide.
Not all insects are pests, there are harmful ones that damage and destroy crops and there are beneficial ones. On our farm we monitor the levels of insects by using pheromone traps, this allows us to monitor the different levels and determine when a specific insect has passed a predetermined threshold. This way we can treat for specific pests as soon as they become a problem, instead of waiting until it’s too late (which requires harsher chemicals and more of them). When we do have to use treatments, we always try to use the less toxic ones, generally at an early stage in the plant's growth before it has developed edible parts and when it is most vulnerable to destruction by harmful pests.
"Spraying" has developed a negative connotation. However, it is a tool used by virtually all farmers, whether organic or not. Sometimes we foliar feed (spray nutrient elements onto the leaf surface), which is a low impact way of meeting a plant's nutritional needs. Organic growers may only use biological and natural chemicals to kill the pests that attack crops, though they are still classified as pesticides. Conventional growers will use both natural and synthetic material to stop unusual infestations. Whenever we are making decisions on what treatment to use, we work in conjunction with our agronome to determine the best course of action.
Our goal is to maintain environmental balance and promote conditions favoring beneficial insects. We use an insecticide when "bad" insects extend beyond the natural balance, and then only when necessary to save the crop.