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CSREES IPM and NRCS Programs Build a Shared Vision for Growers and the Environment

Jennifer Martin, CSREES Staff, (202) 720-8188

CSREES' Northeastern Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Center and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are training growers in practices that will minimize environmental impacts while improving crop yield and pest control. At the same time, IPM and NRCS professionals are learning about each other's work and how to reap benefits from the strengths of both USDA-funded groups.

With funding from a 2006 CSREES Extension-IPM grant, the Northeastern IPM Center brought together four states to design a series of on-farm workshops. Land-grant-based IPM specialists, private consultants, state employees, growers and NRCS staff are becoming partners in cross-educating themselves about these related, but still very distinct, USDA programs.

IPM programs promote the use of effective, economical pest management practices that reduce risks to the environment and human health. NRCS offers financial incentives to growers whose farming practices reduce nonpoint source pollution to protect water, air, and soil quality. In many cases, conservation and IPM practices overlap, giving growers an opportunity to benefit economically from using practices that protect the environment while managing pests.

During summer 2007, more than 250 producers and NRCS staff were trained through workshops in Maine and Massachusetts. In June, 65 growers, consultants, extension specialists, and NRCS employees from four Northeastern states attended an on-farm workshop organized by the Maine Department of Agriculture, University of Maine Cooperative Extension and NRCS. The event, hosted by two farms in Lincoln County, Maine, included presentations on ecological weed control, plant nutrition and crop health, host plant resistance, no-till and cover crop systems and soil quality assessment tools.

At County Fair Farm, owner Andy Williamson demonstrated his approach to minimizing soil disturbance and erosion by preparing crop fields using a zone till cart that makes 4-inch-wide seed beds, followed by a planter that plants directly into the zone tillage rows. At Spear Farm, owner Bob Spear talked about using row covers for his corn and greenhouses for his tomatoes so these crops can be ready for market early in the season.

In a post-workshop evaluation, attendees reported an increase in their knowledge of both conservation and IPM practices, as well as greater awareness of resources, such as extension scouting programs and NRCS cost-share programs. Participants came away from the workshop with plans to increase their use of weed mapping, crop disease forecasting, insect traps, synthetic row covers, greenhouses, crop rotation, disease resistant varieties and pest scouting.

At a similar on-farm workshop held at the Warner Farm in Sunderland, Mass., NRCS staff rated the hands-on scouting exercise as "extremely helpful." The workshop also featured a session, targeted toward growers, that focused on topics such as resistance management. The Warner Farm workshop was one of seven held in Massachusetts during 2007.

Support from other agencies, including state departments of agriculture and non-profit organizations, augmented the training. Connecticut and Maryland are developing additional programs that will include one-on-one mentoring.

The Northeastern IPM Center has also worked with several states to develop Web-based information resources that will help growers earn greater financial assistance from NRCS for using IPM practices.

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education, and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. For more information, visit http://www.csrees.usda.gov.

Article by Elizabeth Myers, based partly on a press release written by Paul Schlein (Maine Department of Agriculture).