3 Ways Battlefield Farms Has Become More Sustainable

It’s not easy to get up early and have a lot of information thrown at you over breakfast. But 60 of the country’s largest growers did just that at Greenhouse Grower’s annual Top 100 Growers Breakfast during Cultivate’15.

Sponsored by BASF, the Top 100 Growers Breakfast is an annual event that addresses industry issues, and how the nation’s largest growers are impacted by and overcoming these challenges.

This year’s discussion centered around the same theme presented in Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers report in May, highlighting growers’ evolving crop protection challenges, including increased regulation of not only neonicotinoids but attention toward other crop protection agents, as well. Based on some of the developments in crop protection in recent years, in the advent of the pollinator health issue and consumer dissent about neonicotinoids and pesticides in general, Greenhouse Grower asked its panel of speakers to share new trends in crop protection worldwide, how growers are adapting with biocontrols and integrated pest management and what the future holds for growers and the supply chain, from the breeder all the way down to the end consumer.

Travis Higginbotham, research and development manager at Battlefield Farms in Rapidan, Va., was one of the speakers. Higginbotham discussed how the operation has adapted to crop protection challenges and programs it has implemented.

A transcript of Higginbotham’s presentation appears below, or you can watch this video:

 

“We were asked to participate in this panel to expain the process we’re going through to become more environmentally friendly, so I wanted to walk you through what we’ve done the past five years. At Battlefield, we saw what was happening in Europe and decided to take the initiative and try to become as environmentally friendly and sustainable as we could. So we partnered up and became registered with MPS.

In regard to CPA usage, they categorize each individual active ingredient with a color code, and these color codes go in progression from white to red. So it’s white, green, amber and red, with red being most severe, and white having barely any impact on the environment. So with that in mind, in 2010, after our first year with MPS, you can see the crop CPA usage that we had, and the active ingredients we were using, based on their toxicity with those color codes. In the five years after 2010, we’ve been able to, with the help of MPS, completely change the way that we view IPM, and change our strategy in order to become more environmentally friendly.

There’s many benefits of becoming MPS certified. We wanted to do this, but we didn’t really know where to start. We needed some help, we needed some guidance, and MPS is an international leader. They allow you to connect every link in the chain, from breeder to grower to retailer, so pretty much all of our bases were covered. And overall, they allowed us to have reachable goals in order to pursue overall what we wanted to environmentally.

One of the main questions I get asked a lot is, did it cost more? And to be quite honest, if you approach it with the right mindset and you seek guidance from an environmental certificate, it’s equaled out for us. But something I do want to point out is that we have had a lot of time costs. We have had to reprioritize the way we use our time in our growing system. And so you can see in 2010, there was a decent amount of learning, prevention, but mainly we scouted. If we saw a pest, we treated. Especially when using systemic pesticides, it usually worked out for us with traditional growing methods.

But in the five years after that, we have learned, trying to integrate more biological controls, that we really have to understand the science behind the biology of a lot of these new products in order to be sustainable. So we’ve had to reprioritize our time, we’ve had to have our educated growers take time out of their day, listen to professionals, trial and error a lot of these products, and that has been a major cost for us in that respect. But overall, we’ve been able to reprioritize how we do this, and we spend a decent amount of time learning, preventing, scouting and then treating. So it has worked out well for us.

I also want to point out we have invested in PulseFogger. Something we have been able to step back and look at, when trying to go down this route, was ultimate coverage with how we were applying chemicals. When we were applying, how we were applying, why. and ultimately with the prevention strategies that you need to use the biologicals to be as effective as they possibly can, we need maximum coverage. So we found that with traditional hydraulic spraying, unless you’re using systemics, a lot of time the chemicals have to be directly in contact with the pest. So your coverage is mainly on top and you’re missing a lot of the plant. We found that to be very inefficient, and when trying to do a lot of preventative measures, we found that going with the Pulsefogger, we were almost completely at 100 percent coverage. So if you think about this for a minute, we’re not only getting the top and bottom of the leaf, we’re getting cracks in the concrete, slits in the shadecloth and holes in the fan. Prevention really is key with a lot of these different biologicals.”

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