Question of the Week
Answer: Apples, Malus sp., are among the most difficult crops to grow organically. They are prone to attack by more pests than perhaps any other crop. Without effective management, the worst of these pests can be devastating—to the fruit, to the grower's spirit, and to the bottom line. To minimize or eliminate chemical inputs while keeping yields and profits sound, the grower must develop a detailed understanding of the orchard as a managed ecosystem. In this regard, there is no substitute for direct observation and experience, along with a willingness to experiment.
Geographic and climatic considerations, cultivar selection, the local pest complex, market prices, production costs, and other factors all influence the design and viability of an organic system. What begins as a fragmented pest-by-pest set of tactics must gradually form an overall management plan in which the various strategies work together as much as possible. The publications Twenty Years of Apple Production Under an Ecological Approach to Pest Management, by Ron Prokopy, and The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist, by Michael Phillips, are excellent guides for an orchardist transitioning to organic production.
Often, the least-toxic organic approach to pest control is very pest-specific. This is good for the overall health of the ecosystem and for consumers, but it can greatly complicate pest management for crops like apples, which have multiple pests.
The ATTRA publication Apples: Organic Production Guide introduces the major apple insect pests and diseases and the most effective organic management methods. It also includes farmer profiles of working orchards and a section dealing with economic and marketing considerations. There is an extensive list of resources for information and supplies and an appendix on disease-resistant apple varieties. For more information, see the guide at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=4.
Additionally, information on organic weed control and fertility management in orchards is presented in a separate ATTRA publication Tree Fruits: Organic Production Overview, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=2.
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