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34478290 Managing Insects and Disease Damage Under an Organic System

34478290 Managing Insects and Disease Damage Under an Organic System

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Published by: El-Elohei Yeshua Jesheua on Jan 31, 2012
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Managing Insects and Disease DamageUnder an Organic System
Prepared by:Melissa VanTine,
Graduate Assistant in Horticulture
and Sven Verlinden,
 Assistant Professor of Horticulture
Work supported by: WVU Extension ServiceTom McConnell,
Extension Farm Management Specialist and Program Leader 
Sept. 2003
With the advent of synthetic chemicals in the1940s, farmers gradually began using them to controlinsects and diseases instead of relying on biologicalcontrols. Although these chemicals were effective atcontrolling insects and diseases and helped to in-crease yields, they did not come without costs. To-day, people are questioning the sustainability of agri-culture using synthetic chemicals.Under any natural ecosystem, there are going tobe pests. An agricultural pest can be defined as aliving organism that can damage a crop and thuscompete with humans for food. A pest, which can bean insect, weed, or pathogen, can become welladapted to its environment if given the right opportu-nities, such as food or overwintering locations.Under conventional management, synthetic chemi-cals can get rid of insect pests, but they also get ridof other insects that do not cause harm and may bebeneficial. Eventually, the pest population may riseand massive outbreaks may ensue. Under the or-ganic system, the main goal is ecological balancerather than eradication.Under the USDA’s organic rule, organic growersmust eliminate the use of synthetic chemicals to con-trol insects and diseases in their fields. Organicfarmers control these pests through integrated pestmanagement (IPM). This is done by scouting fieldsto monitor which pests are present and then re-searching the insect’s or disease’s lifecycle as wellas the lifecycle of their natural enemy in order to de-sign a pest management system that will best controlthe pests. A farmer should do some research into thecrop as well as decide how to monitor and record thefarm’s insect and disease program. Keeping a re-cord of everything that happens in a field is importantfor current and future pest problems.IPM first sets ac-tion thresholds, apoint at which pestpopulations or envi-ronmental condi-tions indicate thatpest control actionmust be taken.Under the organicsystem, there arethree general com-ponents of insectand disease man-agement—cultural,biological, andchemical. A farmer who has farmedconventionally maynot know how to control insects and diseases on thefarm without using chemicals. This fact sheet servesas a general overview of an organic farm’s disease andmanagement plan. Please refer to resources listed atthe end for more detailed information.
Cultural Controls
The first step to a healthy crop is a healthy soil. Ahealthy, biologically active soil will help keep the popu-lations of insects and the incidence of diseases belowtheir economic thresholds. Increasing the biologicaldiversity both within the soil and above the soil is abeneficial means of preventing insect and diseasedamage. When there is a greater diversity of species,there is less chance of one organism becoming domi-nant. Increasing diversity on the farm can be done inmany ways. Planting more than one cultivar of a cropcan increase the genetic diversity of the cropping sys-tem. Crop rotations, intercropping, and strip cropping
Praying Mantis
Tenodera aridifolia sinensis)
 A relentless predator that will devour almost anything that crosses its pathincluding pests such as aphids, grass-hoppers, flies, caterpillars, and moths. It also will eat other beneficial insects.
can also help to increasediversity above ground.
Crop rotations
Crop rotations are an im-portant part of an organicproduction system. Rotatingcrops sequentially in thesame field helps to achievediversity both above and be-low ground. Rotating cropsdeters insects and diseasesby disrupting their life cycles.
Intercropping and strip-cropping
A grower who practicesintercropping (growing twoor more crops in the same,alternate, or paired rows inthe same area) and strip cropping (planting two or more crops in different strips across a field) increasesdiversity on the farm. These farming practices help todisguise plants from pests and can provide food for beneficial organisms.
Planting dates
A grower can also avoid disease or insect damageby altering planting dates. Waiting until a pest organ-ism has died or has reached the stage beyond whichit can cause damage is beneficial.
Biological Control
Biological control includes the use of organisms tokeep pest populations at an economic or an actionthreshold. These thresholds are described as thepoint at which action must be taken in order for thepopulation of pest organisms not to impact thegrower’s yields substantially. These organisms canbe naturally occurring ones or ones that are releasedat appropriate times onto the farm to control insectsand diseases. The beneficial organisms that occur naturally on the farm can be encouraged to stay therethrough what has been referred to as farmscaping.Farmscaping is when a farmer manipulates the farm’secosystem to provide habitat for beneficial organisms.These organisms can be either predators or parasites;they include birds, bats, insects, fungi, bacteria, andviruses. A farmer has many options to choose from.When a grower makes a management decision, it isimportant for him or her to be knowledgeable aboutthe beneficial and pest organisms in the field in or-der to use the right tools at the right time.Web sites listed at the end of this fact sheet canhelp growers identify organisms, or they may visitWVU county Extension offices. Growers may alsomail specimens to WVU extension specialists or theWest Virginia Department of Agriculture Pest Identi-fication Laboratory. Please visithttp://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/ipm/submit.htmfor more information.
Chemical Control
The Final Rule states that farmers may use somenaturally occurring chemical controls as a last re-sort. Organic chemical controls include biorationalpesticides that are derived from natural sources,particle film barriers, botanical pesticides made fromplants, and compost teas. For a list of chemicalcontrols that are permitted under an organic system,please visit the National List of Allowed and Prohib-ited Substances(http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NationalList/FinalRule.html). Or visit the Organic Materials Review Insti-tute (OMRI) (http://www.omri.org/). OMRI is a non-profit organization that publishes and disseminateslists of generic and specific (brand name) materialsallowed and prohibited for use in the production,processing, and handling of organic food and fiber.
Disease Control
Plant diseases are caused primarily by fungi, bac-teria, viruses, and nematodes. Similar methods areused to control both insect and disease pests under an organic system, but some specific ways of reduc-ing diseases on a farm include use of resistant va-rieties, use of certified disease-free seed and plants,proper spacing of plants, proper selection of sites,and exclusion of contaminated materials.
Resistant varieties
Using varieties that have been bred for resistanceto certain disease pests is the most important com-ponent of an organic disease control program. Al-though using resistant varieties has proven effec-tive, it has limitations. First, a grower may not al-ways be able to find a variety that is resistant to aspecific disease, or the variety may be resistant to
Soldier Beetle(
Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus
 Larvae are predators that  feed on small, soft-bodied insects; the adults are often found on flowers feeding on pollen or nectar during thelate summer and early fall.

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