Agriculture, Sustainability January 01, 2024
Taking DIY to the Next Level
Pest control developed specifically for your farm.
Plato wrote, "Necessity is the mother of invention."
There is not a farmer I've met who doesn't subscribe to this motto at some point each season. When something isn't working, doesn't fit, or isn't available, you need to make your own solution. The success of this DIY-mindset eventually sets each one of you apart in the commodity landscape.
This is exactly the situation Mexican berry farmers growing for Driscoll's found themselves in a few years ago.
"We started our Biological Farming Solutions program to potentialize organic production, which is about 30% of our footprint here in Mexico," says Juan Pablo Molina Baranzini, director of operations at BerryMex, a company made up of about 200 growers throughout the state of Jalisco. Driscoll's supplies these growers with their strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry genetics and then markets the fresh berries.
There was a lack of quality product available in the supply chain for this type of application in their region. So, they did as Plato said and took it upon themselves to address their pest and fertility issues. They created products to fight pests and diseases and improve their soil and plant health.
"What we have learned is that these solutions are not only good for our organic growers, but conventional systems are benefiting from them as well," Baranzini says. "Our main goal is to be sustainable by increasing yields and lowering costs. Using our own products reduces our pesticide and fertilizer applications by 30 percent, and we are using less water. All of this makes our fruit less expensive to produce."
Using what they have. Since starting the Biological Farming Solutions (BFS) program, BerryMex has brought in several young and eager agricultural scientists. They are the ones working to make the new crop protection products and do much of the environmental analysis.
"We analyze the water, soil, and plant material to make decisions about fertilizers and look for any pathogens or toxins in our soil. It is leading to using our resources more precisely," says Uriel Isaías Arias Vázquez, BerryMex BFS research and development lab technician. "What would take 10-15 days with an outside lab, we can get results to a grower in three to five days."
While doing the soil samples, they separate the good fungi from the bad and have reproduced the good to put back into the soil at a higher rate, such as Trichoderma to fight off Fusarium and Phytophthora. They are using a second to control red mites, thrips, and white flies.
Another main pest is Drosophila suzukii (also called spotted wing drosophila). They are reproducing two parasitoids to attack the harmful insect. Parasitoids eventually kill the host they feed on as opposed to parasites that feed without killing. The parasitoids are released onto the berry plants at various stages of the pest's development preventing them from reproducing.
Releasing 5,000 to 8,000 of these tiny insects per hectare has given them an efficiency rate of 80% and allowed farmers to stop using other pesticides.
The BFS team is not stopping there. They are using the same methodologies to boost their fertility. Using the dry matter from a neighboring dairy farm's biodigester, they are creating worm juice (leachate) and compost. They incorporate 20 tons of compost per hectare into the fields at planting and then apply 200 liters of the nutrient-rich liquid per hectare through the season.
"Applying the leachate, a cocktail of microorganisms, through the irrigation drip tape in season helps the plant absorb any of the fertilizer that it didn't in the first instance," says Jersuan Olmedo, compost manager for BerryMex.
A few years into using these different products, growers—including Heriberto Ibarra Gonzalez of Guzmán City—are seeing the benefits. Their yields and quality are proving that healthier soil and plants make it easier for the other products to work and harder for the pests to take hold.
"It is a radical change," says Gonzalez. "We needed the proactive options for our organic fields. After switching to the new methods, those fields yielded as much as the conventional ones. Now we are using these practices on all our farm and producing better quality berries for less. Our production price is stabilizing."
This result is exactly what BerryMex was hoping for. "We wanted to create products that would improve our growers' sustainability. I think we are heading in the right direction, making very big steps with the BFS program," says Baranzini. ‡
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