News & Updates

Ecological Management of Key Arthropod Pests in Northeast Apple Orchards

Apples are an important crop in the Northeast, grown for both fresh market and processing. In 2012, there were about 89,000 acres of apples in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states with a farm-gate value of $580 million (USDA NASS, 2012). The list of top apple-producing states nationwide includes two Northeast states: New York, ranked second (1,066 growers and 41,000 bearing acres), and Pennsylvania, ranked fourth (1,239 growers and 19,000 bearing acres).

Northeast apple operations are diverse, with orchards ranging from several hundred acres to less than an acre. Regardless of the orchard’s size, however, growers have a challenging task managing insects, mites and diseases. By some estimates, growers may spend up to 25 percent of their production costs on pest management (Penn State University, 2012).

Pest management challenges are compounded by three factors:

  • high cosmetic standards and low tolerance for damage in fruit marketed for fresh consumption;
  • regulatory pressures and health concerns regarding organophosphate insecticides;
  • the changing nature of the pest complex due to: 1) adaptations of existing pests, and 2) the emergence of new pests, resulting from climatic variation and shifts in host preference.

In response to these challenges, SARE funded three projects, one in Massachusetts and two in Pennsylvania, to help develop alternative management strategies for apple pests in northeastern orchards. This technical bulletin outlines strategies developed from these projects, including biologically based pest control, orchard architecture and development of materials approved for organic production.

At the time of funding (2000-2009), the key arthropod pests in Northeast apple orchards were: European red mite (Panonychus ulmi), plum curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar), apple maggot (Rhagoletis pomonella) and leafroller complex including obliquebanded leafroller (Choristoneura rosaceana) and tufted apple bud moth (Platynota idaeusalis). Today, apple maggot, plum curculio and European red mite continue to be important problems for northeastern growers while a number of new arthropod pests have also emerged, including codling moth (Cydia pomonella) and Oriental fruit moth (Grapholita molesta). This bulletin focuses on these five pests.

For more information on pest management in apple orchards, watch the New England Apple Association’s three-part video series, New England Apple Growers Battle Pests with IPM.

Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) LNE00-135, Toward Sustainability in Northeastern Apple Production: Orchard Ecosystem Architecture, Key Pests, and Cultivar Selection, LNE02-159, Use of Horticultural Oil for Mite Management in Fruit Orchards and LNE06-248, Pennsylvania Regional Organic Fruit Industry Transition.

*original article found on

Sustainable Agriculture- The Basics

Sustainable Agriculture

In simplest terms, sustainable agriculture is the production of food, fiber, or other plant or animal products using farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare.  This form of agriculture enables us to produce healthful food without compromising future generations’ ability to do the same.

The primary benefits of sustainable agriculture are:

Environmental Preservation

Sustainable farms produce crops and raise animals without relying on toxic chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, or practices that degrade soil, water, or other natural resources. By growing a variety of plants and using techniques such as crop rotation, conservation tillage, and pasture-based livestock husbandry, sustainable farms protect biodiversity and foster the development and maintenance of healthy ecosystems.

Protection of Public Health

Food production should never come at the expense of human health.  Since sustainable crop farms avoid hazardous pesticides, they’re able to grow fruits and vegetables that are safer for consumers, workers, and surrounding communities.  Likewise, sustainable livestock farmers and ranchers raise animals without dangerous practices like use of non-therapeutic antibiotics or arsenic-based growth promoters.  Through careful, responsible management of livestock waste, sustainable farmers also protect humans from exposure to pathogens, toxins, and other hazardous pollutants.

Sustaining Vibrant Communities

A critical component of sustainable agriculture is its ability to remain economically viable, providing farmers, farmworkers, food processors, and others employed in the food system with a livable wage and safe, fair working conditions.  Sustainable farms also bolster local and regional economies, creating good jobs and building strong communities.

Upholding Animal Welfare

Sustainable farmers and ranchers treat animals with care and respect, implementing livestock husbandry practices that protect animals’ health and wellbeing.  By raising livestock on pasture, these farmers enable their animals to move freely, engage in instinctive behaviors, consume a natural diet, and avoid the stress and illness associated with confinement.

To learn more please visit

Let Native Pollinators Add To Your Farm’s Bottom Line

Why Do It?

Pollination is vital to high–quality and high-quantity crop production. One of every three forkfuls of food we eat comes from crops pollinated by insects. The demand for pollination services is rising at the same time that pollinator abundance and diversity are declining. While native bees may not be able to replace the honey bee (the single most important pollinator species), they can contribute significantly to crop pollination of apples, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, pears, plums, squash, tomatoes and watermelons. The pollination services native bees provide are contingent on both landscape and farm practices that influence bee habitat. Integrating practices that support native bee populations makes sense economically for the farms of New Jersey.

Learn more at Rutgers– Sustainable Farming on the Urban Fringe.

Fast Tracking Soil Organic Matter

Leaves. We like using un-composted municipal collected leaf mulch to improve soil organic matter. There are different ways to get it done. You can soil incorporate them, and then fallow the field in long rotations. It’s economically challenging. You can surface apply leaves between rows of some standing row crops like potato and pumpkin cash crops. At the end of the season, incorporation of the decomposing leaves improves soil over years. It’s labor intensive. But this is Jersey, where everything has to be done faster and fields have to pay their way. Last fall a grower from South Jersey asked,

“Can I speed up the process of increasing my soil organic matter using incorporated un-composted leaves, yet avoid the crop deficiencies that result from nutrient tie-up?”

He’s talking about the temporary (one or two seasons) soil carbon:nitrogen ratio imbalance that occurs after adding 10-20 tons/acre of leaves that have a carbon:nitrogen ratio of 50:1 to a production field where the ideal ratio would be 10 or 12:1. What he doesn’t say is that he’s got enough to do as a grower without having to become an on-farm compost manager, too.

There’s another way to harness the power of un-composted leaves to increase soil cation exchange capacity and organic matter: soil attributes which buffer nutrients against leaching, increase water-holding capacity, help reduce soilborne diseases, and contribute to higher yields of healthier crops. Using aged municipal leaves, i.e. windrowed leaves that have not been composted, but allowed to decompose for one year, this grower improved his Coastal Plains soils faster than a decade of cover cropping or years of fallowing.

Another Method

A decomposing pile of leaf mulch was applied about 4-inches deep and chisel plow incorporated in Fall 2013 to a field at our Rutgers Research and Extension Farm. The field had been cover cropped regularly with cereal rye, yet measurements of organic matter remained hard to budge on Aura gravelly sandy loam soil, typical for the area in our experience. Soybeans were drilled in 2014, and soil samples pulled in summer 2014 from the standing soybean crop. Six months after one leaf mulch application, there was a 28% increase in cation exchange capacity and an 80% increase in soil organic matter (see table).

Aura Gravelly Sandy Loam Soil Cation Exchange Capacity (meq/100g) Organic Matter (%)
Un-amended 6.9 1.0
Aged Leaf Mulch Amended 8.8 1.8
Change +28% +80%

With this experience, we told the grower to give it a try. We sampled a large, intensively farmed (frequent double cropping) vegetable field of Sassafras sandy loam soil. Half the field received a 4 to 6-inch layer of aged municipal-collected leaf mulch in Winter 2014-2015 that was incorporated. The other half was not amended with leaves. Both were seeded in greens and herbs. In April, two soil samples (each sample a composite of six subsamples) were pulled from each half of the field. After one leaf mulch amendment, there was a 31% increase in soil cation exchange capacity and an 83% increase in percent organic matter (see table).

Sassafras Sandy Loam Soil Cation Exchange Capacity (meq/100g) Organic Matter (%)
Un-amended 11.6 1.2
Aged Leaf Mulch Amended 15.2 2.2
Change +31% +83%

No crop nutrient deficiencies were observed in these fields.

Year-Old Leaf Mulch Gives the Best of Both Worlds

Here’s our thoughts on why we’ve had good results from using aged leaf mulch. Stockpiling leaf windrows on-farm for a season after they are received from municipalities, allows time for partial decomposition. It is not necessary to actually compost leaf windrows in this situation. Breakdown via decomposition appears sufficient to avoid crop nutrient deficiencies from microbial inhibition of soil nitrogen.

Farmers can apply for USDA NRCS NJ EQIP cost-sharing assistance when adopting leaf mulch practices.

-Acceptance of holding on-farm leaf windrows, varies among NJ communities and their municipal code inspectors, so check locally.
-A Rutgers survey in 2007 indicated NJ municipalities collect a staggering 289,000 dry tons of waste leaves annually. Six North Jersey counties of Bergen, Essex, Mercer, Monmouth, Morris, and Union combined collect 172,000 dry tons. Connecting with municipal works departments might pay big dividends on your soil productivity.

*This article is originally from Rutgers– Sustainable Farming on the Urban Fringe.

Farm Energy Efficiency

Farm energy audits have evolved to become a useful tool  that can improve profitability, conserve resources, and guide transition to renewable energy sources. Performing an audit can vary in scope from looking at a single energy expense to evaluating all energy inputs plus water use, etc. Audits can vary in complexity from self-performed to professionally performed audits using computer simulation. All energy audits should include review and analysis of energy records, a walk-through of the farm facilities characterizing equipment and systems, and identify specific energy conservation opportunities.

  • Review and analysis of energy records (e.g. fuel and electric bills) can pinpoint areas for potential improvement. When combined with building plans and basic information about mechanical systems and equipment, a detailed analysis of energy use and costs, preferably over a period of at least a year, can often identify significant opportunities for energy savings.
  • A walk-through is an opportunity to appraise the condition and operation of energy using systems. On-site measurement and testing is an essential aspect of a detailed audit performed by a professional, and can serve several purposes. Measurement of performance over a period of time can identify short and long term trends. Direct measurement of equipment or system performance is often more reliable and accurate than manufacturer’s data or engineering analyses.
  • Specific energy saving options can be identified and used to find ways to reduce energy consumption, alter the type of energy used, or suggest renewable energy strategies.

To learn more please visit Rutgers– Sustainable Farming on the Urban Fringe.

Organic Insect Management in Sweet Corn

When customers flock to markets in search of sweet corn, they want it to be of the highest quality — sweet, fresh and worm-free. Yet, in ecological or organic production of sweet corn, achieving worm-free corn is one of the most difficult challenges. In the Northeast, three major caterpillar pests — corn earworm, European corn borer, and fall armyworm — invade ears and cause ugly feeding damage. Without effective controls, it is impossible to produce high quality corn throughout the season.

This fact sheet discusses an integrated strategy for controlling these three caterpillar species using methods that meet current organic certification standards. Any grower interested in methods that are safe for the applicator and the environment may be interested in this approach. The components of this strategy are 1) monitoring to determine pest pressure and need for treatment and, if necessary, 2) a direct treatment of each ear with a microbial or botanical insecticide carried in vegetable oil to control corn earworm, 3) Trichogramma releases and/or foliar applications of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) or spinosad to control European corn borer and/or 4) foliar applications of Bt or spinosad for fall armyworm control.

Check out the fact sheet and full article on the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education’s website or download the pdf version.

A Sustainable Approach to Controlling Honey Bee Diseases & Varroa Mites

Photo credit: Scott Bauer

An estimated one-third of the human diet is derived directly or indirectly from insect pollinated plants. Honey bees are the world’s most important insect pollinator of fruit and vegetable crops, home gardens and wildflowers. The number of bee colonies and beekeepers is steadily declining due to the inadvertent introduction of the parasitic mite Varroa destructor into the U.S. in 1987. Left untreated, varroa mites kill most bee colonies within one to two years.

To control the mite, beekeepers have been using pesticides (pyrethroids and organophosphates) in their bee colonies. However, that approach has generated problems, including the mites developing resistance, the enormous operating expense of purchasing and spraying pesticides in honey bee colonies and risks of contaminating honey and beeswax with residue.

The goal is to breed honey bees, Apis mellifera, resistant to diseases and parasitic mites to reduce the amount of antibiotics and pesticides used in bee colonies and to ensure that our breeding methods and stock are accessible to beekeepers everywhere. A reduction in pesticide use by beekeepers will enhance environmental quality and economic viability of individual beekeeping operations; strengthen an agricultural system (beekeeping) based on small and moderate-scale owner-operated farms; protect human health and safety by preventing the risk of contaminating honey and hive products; and promote the well-being of honey bees — our honey producers and vital pollinators.

Check out the full article at the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education website or download the pdf version.

5 Reasons to Shop at a Farmers’ Market

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Farmers’ markets offer in season produce with the best nutritional qualities.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are filled with healthy antioxidants and phytonutrients.  Check out what vegetables and fruits are in season in your area for the best tastes.

Supporting farmers and artisans in your area helps them to continue to produce their goods. You can have a direct impact on keeping farmlands alive and prosperous.  Help your local farmers to keep growing by giving them your support.

Markets also offer an opportunity for the community to prosper.  Help your community’s economy by purchasing goods direct from its local source at farmers’ markets.   Many farmers’ markets accept SNAP and WIC benefits.

Farmers’ markets offer a great experience for kids to learn about the foods they are eating.  Get them involved in how food is grown and then turned into their favorite dishes.  Learn what foods are grown in your area. Let your kids pick out something new and exciting for them to try!

Why not try out some different vegetables and fruits?  Farmers’ markets provide a great source of lesser known produce that you can incorporate into your meals.  Growers can also offer great ideas for new recipes that incorporate their goods.  Be daring and pick up something different on your next visit!


This Saturday Only: Support Local High School Club

Lake Atitlan

SUPPORT THE BTHS SPANISH CLUB at the Brick Farmers’ Market this Saturday, where they will be selling unique reusable shopping bags to the local community. Here is a message from Amy, the Spanish club advisor:

“I am currently advisor of the BTHS Spanish Club, a club that was organized only a couple years ago by a few students and continues to be run by them with just a little help from myself.


I also do a lot of traveling on my own and have spent considerable time over the last 3 years volunteering in Guatemala building houses for the very poor with a 503c non profit organization (based out of NJ) called From Houses to Homes.


This summer, a few of the Spanish Club members will head to Guatemala to build a house so the club has taken on the mission of fundraising for this.  The houses are built relying on donations of the volunteers.


Our most recent initiative is a fundraiser selling re-usable shopping bags.  It is a unique endeavor because they are made by Guatemalan women in Guatemala out of coffee bags no longer in use.  So, there’s no profit really for any ‘outsider’.  Part of the money goes to the group of women who make the bags and the other to the volunteers’ fundraising/donation campaign.”

You can show your support by purchasing your bag this Saturday from 9am-12pm.

6 Steps to Mastering the Farmer’s Market

6steps_1Research all of your local farmers’ markets in order to find the best deals.  If there are multiple market places in your area, try them all out!  Farmers’ markets generally run from the spring to the fall.  Make sure to become accustomed with their unique hours of operation so you don’t miss out.

6steps_2Become familiar with the farmers and artisans selling at your local market.  Typically, sellers at markets are the same individuals who grow the produce.  Getting to know farmers personally can help build a long lasting relationship and get you better deals.

6steps_3Farmers are more likely to barter with you for their goods.  Try offering them something other than cash. Barter with your own unique products.   You may even be able to trade with your own skills such as plumbing or design.  Farmers appreciate individuals who have skills as well.  Try to strike a bargain with them as well!

Be willing to try new fruits and vegetables at your farmers’ market.  Lesser known products are often much cheaper than your typical produce.  Be adventurous and add new foods to your meals.

6steps_5Chat with your farmers!  Don’t forget to compliment them on all of their hard work.  If you loved last week’s cilantro, let them know.  Everybody loves to be appreciated and chatting about food can lead to personal relationships with growers.  If you find your way into a farmer’s heart you may walk away with a better deal on their produce.

6steps_6Purchase produce when it is in its peak season. Many growers will have a surplus of fruits and vegetables that you can buy in bulk and keep for future use.  Buying in bulk can save you money on seasonal food that you may not be able to purchase during the rest of the year.  Try canning, drying, or freezing produce for use during its off season!