specialty crops

Left: dicamba-damaged pumpkin leaf (Lindsey Orphan, SIU-Carbondale.) Right: dicamba-damaged soybeans (Mark Loux, Ohio State)

Since 2016, soybean farmers have quickly adopted dicamba- and 2,4-D-ready crops in their fight against herbicide-resistant weeds. However, the expanded use of these herbicides during the growing season has led to an increased threat of drift damage for neighboring specialty crop growers. Several high-value crops can be damaged by concentrations of 1/300 the labeled rate or lower. Crops with especially high sensitivity to dicamba and 2,4-D include grapes, tomatoes, and soybeans that are not engineered for dicamba-resistance. Recent legal issues have limited the use of three dicamba products for the 2020 growing season, but 2,4-D and other dicamba products are still in use and will continue to pose a risk in areas with diversified or organic production.

A new fact sheet series is available to help specialty crop growers prepare for and respond to possible dicamba and 2,4-D drift. The series provides tips for being proactive, detailed steps for documenting and responding to damage, and a brief background on why dicamba and 2,4-D have been especially problematic. A Frequently Asked Questions fact sheet highlights various concerns pertinent to specialty crop producers. The series sought input from a variety of crop and herbicide specialists across the United States, as well as state regulatory agencies.

Fact sheets are available online at go.osu.edu/ipm-drift.

Preparing for drift

“Vigilance and communications are the two big things,” says Ohio State weed specialist Doug Doohan, “Knowing who your neighbors are, talking to them about your plans, talking to them about their plans, being aware of who’s doing what on the land and when.”

But who is your neighbor when it comes to drift? Just how far can dicamba drift travel? Most spray droplet drift will move short distances. This type of damage is generally limited to adjacent fields. However, dicamba and 2,4-D are likely to drift as a gas or via a temperature inversion. Temperature inversions can be especially damaging, moving suspended pesticides in a fog-like layer for longer distances.

“There’s all kinds of circumstantial evidence of much greater movement,” says Doohan. “When you’re talking inversions, if an inversion is motivated by a 2-3 mph wind, it could go miles—especially if the conditions persist through the evening.”

Doohan has helped investigate several drift cases and was one of the co-authors for the new fact sheet series. He encourages growers to establish a Standard Operating Procedure to prepare for a drift incident, just as they might for food safety concerns. He also stresses the importance of documenting suspected drift quickly, thoroughly, and repeatedly. The new fact sheet series offers detailed suggestions for these activities.

“If you see something, document it,” he advises. “Use your cell phone. You can always delete unneeded photos later, but you can’t go back in time and get the picture you wish you had taken.”

The new fact sheet series was cowritten by specialists at The Ohio State University and Purdue University, with support from the North Central IPM Center Working Group on Herbicide-Drift Risk Management. The working group organized in the fall of 2019 and plans additional projects in the coming year, including more resources and an anonymous survey of specialty crop growers to better assess the extent and frequency of drift damage throughout the north central region. The North Central IPM Center serves Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin and is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through agreement 2018-70006-28884.

Microbe-containing industry overview

Biostimulants are not exclusive to organic systems, but they are a common input for organic growers. Ohio State vegetable production specialist Matt Kleinhenz has spent many years studying microbial-based biostimulants (MBBS). Few agricultural input markets have seen the kind of explosive growth that has occurred with MBBS.

“These products are widely available, relatively inexpensive, are said to offer interesting and appealing benefits, and rarely put users at significant risk, unlike some other products,” says Kleinhenz.

Nicole Wright, program coordinator for the Vegetable Production Lab’s MBBS project, also attributes market growth to increased interest in microbiology.

“I think growers are applying them and thinking about soil and soil microbiology,” she says, “They are thinking ‘everything I hear says that having healthy soil means having lots of living things in them and if I can contribute to that, it’s a good thing.’”

With a constant stream of products entering and exiting the market, Kleinhenz and his team are less interested in testing specific products and more interested in answering the bigger questions surrounding this subset of agricultural inputs. Their research has focused on identifying which factors are important to product efficacy, such as the effect of timing and application rate.

Kleinhenz and Wright have this advice for growers interested in or already using MBBSs on their crops:

  • Do background research. Just because a product is OMRI-listed does not mean it’s been found effective. Set aside time to read up on the product. Take a critical look at label instructions. What details are provided about the timing, application rate and application methods? What can the manufacturer tell you about mixing it with other products or using it in specific conditions or crops?
  • Be wary of claims that seem exaggerated. Most of these products create modest, gradual, and/or inconsistent yield improvements. Growers should have realistic expectations for MBBS products.
  • Product consistency can be an issue with MBBSs. If a product only works some of the time, the cause may be related to the user, the manufacturing process and product itself, or production conditions. For example, environmental factors like soil fertility, pH, or cropping history might influence  the product’s effectiveness.
  • Use storage and handling procedures that acknowledge these are living products. Avoid temperature extremes and chlorinated water, for example.
  • Track what happens. Referrals from other users of the product are valuable. But remember that their success won’t necessarily be repeated in your farm’s unique conditions. When trying a new product or practice, maintain a similar untreated part of your field to compare. Do your own experiments with rate and timing. Keep records on what you applied, where, and take notes on any differences you see in growth, yield, quality, etc.
  • Use good cultural processes to increase microbials in your soil too. Wright likens MBBS products to taking a vitamin vs. eating healthy foods. Cultural practices that favor soil biodiversity, organic matter, and good drainage are also needed to provide food and conditions that allow microbial life to thrive.

Change is coming

So far, these products are largely unregulated. For the first time, the current farm bill includes language defining a biostimulant--an important first step in creating better uniformity in the industry, says Kleinhenz. Some manufacturers are concerned about the overall image of MBBS products and are pushing for a more narrow definition along with efficacy testing.

Kleinhenz feels regulation will usher in increased product consistency and better information for consumers, but regulation may also limit the number of products available. Testing product efficacy requires time, expertise, and/or expenses that smaller manufacturers may find challenging.

He also questions if it is truly appropriate to apply the same efficacy standards used for many mainstream agricultural inputs. Based on averages and standard, proven statistical analysis, a comparison of treated and non-treated plots failed to show that inoculation (product use) significantly influenced yield. However, the Vegetable Production Systems Lab team observed many times when a MBBS did increase yield (and a few times when it lowered it).

“If you went out to your truck and it only started half of the mornings, you’d be pretty annoyed and conclude it’s unreliable, that it’s not working,” Kleinhenz says. “However, if you apply a product to your crops or soils and see measurable improvement say, 30% of the time, you might still find the application worthwhile if the costs and other risks were low. Our goal as a team is to provide growers and others with information they can use to distinguish worthwhile from unwise investments and practices.”

There are many additional practical questions to answer that could involve microbiology and decision-making. For now, Kleinhenz and his lab are enjoying the conversation and questions stimulated by this growing and changing industry. 

Read more at: https://u.osu.edu/vegprolab/research-areas/vegebiostimsferts/

This research is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Organic Transitions Program under award Number 2016-51106-25714 and also under award number 2016-38640-25381 through the North Central Region SARE program under subaward number LNC16-380.

Ohio State hemp trials from 2019

Licenses for hemp cultivation and processing are available in Ohio beginning this week. However, Brad Bergefurd, horticulture specialist at Ohio State’s South Centers, warns potential growers to consider carefully before clearing ground for our state’s budding hemp industry.

“Long term, I think Ohio hemp for seed, fiber and possible nutraceutical products has great economic potential for Ohio agriculture,” says Bergefurd, “but I am afraid early adopters of this crop right now could be setting themselves up for failure if they have not firmly developed their own hemp marketing and production plants well in advance.”

Hemp production has high potential as an organic product, especially for CBD production, which is the type of production Ohio State’s trials focused on. Since CBD is used in health products, manufacturers prefer or require organic practices. But the risk level is high, says Bergefurd. From the university hemp trials in 2019, he found production was very labor-intensive and required specialized equipment for planting, harvesting, and drying. Planting costs alone were around $10,000 - $15,000 per acre. These are risky investments for a crop that might ultimately be confiscated if it fails to meet minimum THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) levels.

Even though the university purchased low-THC  varieties, all the southern Ohio trials failed to pass the legal minimum for THC, says Bergefurd, which is not an uncommon problem. The issue of illegal THC levels, along with falling prices from a national oversupply of CBD hemp, have caused serious losses for farmers in Kentucky and other southern states in the past year, leading to economic strain and farm foreclosures. He doesn’t want to see that happen in Ohio.

In addition to the low THC requirement (0.3% for hemp--compared to average marijuana THC content of 3.5%), hemp crops must be harvested within 15 days of Ohio Department of Agriculture’s THC testing. In the Ohio trials, levels of both THC and CBD rose with decreasing moisture levels, leaving much of a farmer’s fate up to the weather. That’s nothing new; but combined with the other risks and start-up costs, it might give a grower pause.

“We just have a lot of research work to do before we are fully prepared,” says Bergefurd. “Not only for growing the crop, but we have limited to no hemp buyers, or processing and marketing infrastructure developed in Ohio as of today.”

After all, it’s been nearly 80 years since hemp was last grown legally in Ohio. Bergefurd says research is needed to develop management practices for pest control and other production concerns, along with breeding programs to develop varieties better suited to the low THC requirements. He is hopeful that legalizing hemp will be an important first step in creating the research and investment needed to make hemp a viable new market for Ohio.

Ellen Essman, from Ohio State's Law Office urges growers to read through the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Hemp Program page carefully to become familiar with the many rules and fees involved. 

"If you wish to grow or process hemp," she writes in the OSU Farm Office Blog, "there are detailed rules you must follow, such as getting your sites approved, setback requirements, land use restrictions, and providing ODA with information like GPS coordinates of the land and the number of acres and plants you cultivate, just to name a few."

Read more:

"Don’t Hurry Into Hemp” article from OSU South Centers. 

- Ohio Department of Agriculture’s hemp program page.

Posted In: variety trials, specialty crops, research
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Based on an article from Organic Seed Alliance by Kiki Hubbard. Read the full article here

New varieties of disease-resistant cucurbits are commercially available as a result of Cornell University's Eastern Sustainable Organic Cucurbit Project. 

Through participatory efforts with farmers and regional seed companies, Extension researchers developed new varieties with organic producers in mind, focusing on resistance to common diseases and pests, but also on production and culinary characteristics important to organic farmers. 

“All of our successes with DMR are owed to farmer input,” says project director Michael Mazourek. “We took moderately resistant material that we had at Cornell, moderately resistant material identified by organic farmers, and people are seeing the literal cross-pollination of these partnerships in DMR varieties now available to growers.”

‘Trifecta’ muskmelon stood out for its excellent eating quality and yield–even under levels of downy mildew pressure that defoliated most commercial melon varieties. The variety also exhibited good bacterial wilt resistance and was less prone to damage from striped cucumber beetles. ‘Trifecta’ is currently available for sale through Common Wealth Seed Growers and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

DMR401 cucumber, a downy-mildew resistant (DMR) slicing cucumber variety, now available for purchase through Common Wealth Seed GrowersHigh Mowing Organic SeedsSeedWise, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

DMR264 cucumber, excellent resistance to new strain of downy mildew, smaller and bred for warmer climates with severe pressure from downy mildew. Available from Common Wealth Seed Growers.

Additional varieties are being tested for release.

The Eastern Sustainable Organic Cucurbit Project has received funding from the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative, as well as the Organic Farming Research Foundation, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), and the Clif Bar Family Foundation. Read more about the project at eOrganic.

Written by Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, Agricultural and Resource Law Program

The Ohio Specialty Crop Registry connects producers of specialty crops, beekeepers, and pesticide applicators to one another through free online registries. Producers of specialty crops and beekeepers may voluntarily report the boundaries of their specialty crops and beehives. The registry then compiles this information in a mapping tool that also provides the contact information of the registrant. In doing so, pesticide applicators are better able to avoid these areas and minimize spray drift.

The Old System: the Ohio Sensitive Crop Registry

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) first launched a registry for sensitive crops in 2014 so that pesticide applicators could know the locations of sensitive crops before spraying in a given area. The registry came about at a time when widespread demand for organic foods required more farmers to closely monitor what came into contact with their crops. The original tool allowed commercial producers of at least a half-acre of a single type of sensitive crop to register.  Sensitive crops included just about any non-row crop such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Apiaries, outdoor aquaculture, brambles, certified organic farms, nurseries, greenhouses, and orchards also could be registered.

The New System: the Ohio Specialty Crop Registry

Now, ODA partners with FieldWatch, Inc. to operate the Ohio Specialty Crop Registry. FieldWatch, Inc. is a non-profit organization that operates three registries: DriftWatch for producers of specialty crops, BeeCheck for beekeepers, and CropCheck for producers of row crops. FieldWatch creates maps based on the information from these registries, and makes those maps available to pesticide applicators in another program called FieldCheck. In summary, the three registries are for the producers and beekeepers, and FieldCheck is for the pesticide applicators.

Ohio currently only uses the DriftWatch and BeeCheck registries. According to ODA, the list of sensitive crops under the old program is virtually the same under the new system, meaning that producers of any non-row crop may utilize DriftWatch. While beekeepers may report the location of their beehives in DriftWatch, ODA recommends that beekeepers with no specialty crops use BeeCheck.

FieldWatch, Inc. continues to update its tools to add features and indicators, and CropCheck represents one such development. New for 2019, this registry allows producers of row crops like corn, soybeans, and wheat to register their crops.  Its development comes on the heels of the introduction of dicamba-tolerant seeds. Only Arkansas, North Carolina, Illinois, and Indiana have adopted CropCheck for 2019. Ohio has not yet adopted it.

Connecting the Dots between the Registry and Liability

At this point you may be asking yourself, why is this in the ag law blog? That’s a fair question, and the answer is simple: risk management. As more farmers adopt organic practices, as pesticides and seeds change, and as weather patterns evolve, the risk increases that pesticide drift may come into contact with and negatively impact specialty crops and beehives.

The law expects people to act reasonably and to exercise due care at all times, and this default duty applies to pesticide applicators. Common claims for drift include negligence, nuisance, and trespass.  Each of these claims examine whether the parties acted reasonably and with due care. Most often, when a court decides that a pesticide applicator acted unreasonably, it is because he or she failed to apply the pesticide in a manner consistent with the label. Following the label is certainly an expectation, but it is not the only thing a court will consider. 

When a pesticide applicator does not use FieldCheck, a perceptive attorney representing beekeepers and producers of specialty crops would likely argue that the use of FieldCheck is an industry standard.  If an attorney could establish this, then the failure to use FieldCheck would mean that a pesticide applicator failed to act in a reasonable manner and exercise due care. While we have not seen an Ohio court consider this issue yet, as use of the program continues to grow, this argument will come to hold more weight when a case does arise.

When a pesticide applicator does use FieldCheck, he or she has a stronger argument that he or she acted in a reasonable manner. FieldCheck provides pesticide applicators with a way to know exactly where registered sensitive crops and beehives are located, and allows the applicator to buffer accordingly. FieldCheck provides a quick, cheap, and easy way to manage legal risk, alongside following the label.  Applicators who use the program may want to document when they used the program and also how the maps impacted their application plan.

These scenarios presume that the beekeeper or producer of specialty crops has registered the locations of their bees or crop with a FieldWatch registry. When sued by a beekeeper or producer of specialty crops who did not register their locations, a pesticide applicator could use similar arguments as noted above in order to defend against the lawsuit. However, the applicator’s focus would likely regard the lack of notice. Again, these arguments alone would not likely determine the outcome of the case, but they would help the court determine whether the parties acted reasonably.

What about hemp?

Another question that some of our readers will also be asking is: which registry is for hemp? We made a call and left a message with FieldWatch.  If or when hemp production becomes legal in Ohio, we’ll be sure to provide an update on which registry is proper for hemp. Ohio’s hemp bill is on the move, and the Ohio Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee completed its third hearing of the bill this week. However, we can’t forget that growing hemp is not legal in Ohio unless and until the bill is passed into law and the regulatory system is created.

Reprinted by permission from the Ohio Agricultural Law Blog. The blog is a service of the Ohio State Farm Office, which provides information for agricultural producers and land owners on agricultural law, taxation, production economics and farm management.

Posted In: herbicide drift, specialty crops
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