Farm Calls: A Greenhouse “Walk of Doom”

Tomato transplants. Photo: P.Nitzsche
Last month at a growers meeting, a farmer remarked how calling his county agent out to the farm, more often than not, turned out to be a “walk of doom” because the agent always found problems he didn’t even know he had. The farmer is actually happy about this – it means he gets the jump on problems before they get out of control. This week’s farm call from a south Jersey grower reminds us why there’s no substitute for agents in the field.

Can you come take a look at my tomatoes?
They’re still in the greenhouse due to the cold temperatures and I’m seeing some wilt. The roots are turning light brown with the outer sheath sliding off.

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Cabbage Maggot & Pest Control Efficacy

Last month we met with a group of farmers who urged Rutgers to provide expanded information on organic pest control recommendations.

What are my organic treatment options and how well do they work? As an organic grower, I sometimes accept less control, and more costly treatment than conventional farmers, but the information on efficacy is unclear. If Rutgers isn’t doing efficacy trials, can you sift through the literature to tell me what others have found that definitely works?

Control of cabbage root maggot (CRM) is a timely example that illustrates the ‘struggle for relative efficacy’ in making organic recommendations when compared with conventional options. Forsythia in bloom–any day now–occurs at about the same time that farmers can expect CRM to damage their transplanted cole crops. Even light CRM infestations can kill small seedlings and transplants, delay crop development, and render root crops unsaleable. Higher populations can kill older plants or reduce yield.

This article discusses:

  • monitoring and control of CRM in cole crops.
  • the use of online weather station degree-day (DD) data to predict CRM activity and timing of treatment – instead of relying on phenology.
  • how the lack of field research capacity makes recommendations difficult for organic pest controls in comparison with conventional controls.
  • why talent scouting (sifting through the literature) is an adjunct to research capacity, not a replacement.

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Farm Calls: A Winter’s Tale of Two Fields

Last Friday night a leading Jersey vegetable grower asked, “What’s with all the recent media hype about cover crops? I’m getting ads, USDA NRCS promotions and trade magazine articles about something we already know all about.”

He’s not alone in holding this opinion – ag agents have come to similar conclusions. “We know about cover crops. Farmers know about cover crops. Cover crops have been researched, demonstrated, and their costs and benefits established for over a century. There’s nothing innovative for growers and nothing new to teach.”

The thing is, many growers haven’t adopted cover crops. For example, take the fields I came across while driving down to Friday’s meeting. Who can resist checking out other farmers’ fields while traveling, whether it’s your neighbor down the road or fields far from home? On this detour, there were hundreds of acres seeded with a cover crop mix of cereal rye and oilseed radish (AKA Tillage Radish). But, something caught my eye so I stopped to take a look.

Two fields on opposite sides of one road.

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Farm Calls: Tillage Tools for “Breaking Ground”

A young farmer in North Jersey gave a call this season to ask if we could swing by a take a look at some land he wanted to bring into production. We arrived to find a worst-case scenario: an old pasture on heavy silt loam soil with densely rooted sod clumps – the ground had not been tilled or mowed in two decades. In addition, there was no plan for a burndown herbicide application since the grower follows organic practices.

New Jersey Ag Agents often field calls like this from beginning farmers with small acreage and urban ag market gardeners who need to perform primary tillage, i.e., break ground for the first time. Working with a limited budget, they face the daunting task of opening up an old pasture like our farmer’s, or soils that are compacted and abandoned. These sites share a common problem. They are too small to bring in a 25-35hp tractor and tillage implements, yet far too large to dig and turn the soil over by hand – even with plenty of volunteers.

Primary tillage using a walk-behind two-wheeled tractor.

Tillage using a walk-behind two-wheeled tractor.

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