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Students and local orchard conduct pest management research

By Jane Ver Steeg

Chris Boomsma and Lindsay Cameron valued not only the hands-on research the projected provided, but also the opportunity to explore environmentally safe pest controls.

Chris Boomsma and Lindsay Cameron valued not only the hands-on research the projected provided, but also the opportunity to explore environmentally safe pest controls.

Research conducted by two Dordt College agriculture majors at Ocheda Orchard near Worthington, Minnesota, may help develop more environmentally friendly pest control methods for raising apples.

Lindsay Cameron from Rugby, North Dakota, and Chris Boomsma from South Holland, Illinois, compared conventional pesticide control of harmful insects in apple orchards with Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods. Their research indicates that harmful insects such as the codling moth may be controlled by introducing a combination of alternative methods, including pheromone mating disruptors, parasitoid wasps that hatch within and consume host moth eggs, and crops that attract and feed beneficial insect populations.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has posted the research results of the two-year project on their website, http://www.mda.state.mn.us/ipm/cmresearch.htm

The research was conducted through an agriculture directed-study course offered at Dordt College, comparable to what some universities refer to as an “undergraduate thesis.” With funding from both Dordt College and the Ocheda Orchard, the students each contributed more than 100 hours to preliminary research; acquiring project supplies; contacting researchers, producers, and experts; performing weekly field activities; analyzing the data; writing and presenting their findings and seeking publication.

“The Dordt agriculture department has been exceptional at not only teaching us, but in giving us the unique opportunity to put our ‘book knowledge’ to practical use and therefore hopefully allowed us to help the apple producers of the region,” said Chris Boomsma regarding the project.

The concept for the study originated with Val Nystrom, a Dordt College alumna who is the daughter of Chuck Nystrom, owner and operator of Ocheda Orchard.

“As the public and growers alike begin to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of conventional pest control practices, more individuals are becoming increasingly concerned about the effects of pesticides on food and the environment,” commented Boomsma. “With the rise in the popularity of certified organic foods, we felt that it would be beneficial to examine the pest control measures necessary to grow food in this setting.”

Based on observations and data collected during the 2003 growing season, the research duo concluded that IPM methods of pest control can produce comparable results to conventional methods, with similar cost, and with the added advantage of being more environmentally friendly. They noted, however, that the credibility of the findings is limited because the study only involves one growing season, in a year when the codling moth population (the prominent and most damaging apple pest) was unusually low due to low precipitation levels. Before growers implement IPM methods of pest control in apple orchards, further scientific experimentation must be done to fully test the benefits and drawbacks of this alternative method of pest control.

“Ocheda Orchard was incredibly helpful,” noted Boomsma. “Few orchards would have donated the time and resources that the Ocheda Orchard supplied us with. From start to finish, Chuck Nystrom was always there helping us out.”

Experimentation at Ocheda Orchard required a designated alternative plot, where grass lanes were replaced with buckwheat, red clover, and a mix of several flowering species officially named Good Bug Blend®. These crops were intended to attract beneficial insects, which in turn control the harmful insect population. Until these lanes flowered, an alternative food source of corn syrup, brewer’s yeast, powdered milk and Good Bug Blend® was smeared on wooden stakes that were capped with plastic yogurt cups to protect them from precipitation.

Throughout the growing season, sticky trap cards and pheromone traps were placed throughout the orchard. These were then frozen and analyzed to compare the number and types of insects in both regions of the orchard.

During apple harvest any apples with evidence of insect damage were weighed separately to determine percentage of apples sustaining damage compared to the total pounds of apples harvested.

The field research, especially in a beautiful orchard such as the Nystrom’s, was a pleasure, said Cameron and Boomsma. Both appreciated the opportunity to do research in an environment where actual production occurs.

Chris Boomsma (Dec.’04) worked for a semester for the U.S. Department of Energy at Argonne National Laboratory. He is now working toward a Ph.D. in crop physiology at Purdue University.

Lindsay Cameron (’04) plans to do agricultural development work overseas or work in plant research or horticulture here in the U.S. She is currently working at Argonne National Laboratory.