We have officially seen the end to our growing season with several over night low temperatures recorded in the mid 20’s. These hard freezes lead to an abrupt stop of any production that may have still been lingering on into the fall. Once these cold temperatures arrive, our annual crops die back and the hay fields, orchard trees, grape vines and small fruit shrubs begin to go dormant until next spring. After a busy season of managing crops, it can be easy to feel ready to call it a year and look ahead to 2024, however, there are still some important considerations to evaluate with regards to integrated pest management.
For farmers and gardeners alike, there are some steps to take to help prevent diseases and insects from overwintering and impacting next year’s crops. Regardless of size or scale of operation, or style of production, there is always a risk of over wintering diseases and insects on alternative host plants or in crop residue post-harvest. Realizing where these risks exist, and the challenges associated with allowing insects and diseases to over winter, can help you make decisions to mitigate such risks.
One of the first steps to take to reduce the likelihood of diseases and insects over wintering is residue management. In systems like orchards and agronomic crop fields, residues are prime material for over wintering to occur. In an agronomic system, utilizing tillage tools to incorporate residue, or at least reducing the size of the plant material and encouraging soil contact or coverage can reduce the amount of time needed for breakdown of the residue.
In situations where a fruit or vegetable is involved, making sure to not allow any whole fruit to over winter is very important to the overall sanitation of the operation. This can be especially challenging in orchards where diseases easily overwinter on mummy fruit left hanging in the trees. These are perfect inoculum sources that would promote reinfection next year. It is important to collect all diseased fruit and plant material and have them either burned, buried, or disposed of off the property. Composting does not eliminate the risk of reinfection.
While this is time consuming and may feel like pointless work, a change like this in your management tactics can prove to provide positive outcomes. Reducing disease inoculum and insect populations consistently over several years can provide a great benefit in reducing the amount of pressure on the crops for the subsequent growing seasons.
Next in the process, you will want to widen the scope of your efforts, looking at field edges, nearby ditches and water ways or any other location that may be suitable to serve as an alternative overwintering host for diseases and insects. Many of our common weeds fill this role and allow for diseases and insects to survive the winter and cause problems next year.
Once you have taken action to reduce the favorable habitats for diseases and insect pests to over winter, it’s important to look ahead to next year. For agronomic farmers, vegetable growers and gardeners, crop rotation is a best management practice that will provide an opportunity to break a pest or disease cycle. Breaking these cycles, or greatly reducing the amount of successful cycles will result in fewer opportunities for the insect pests and diseases to cause significant damage.
Being aggressive with your efforts is recommended and provides an opportunity to help save money in the long run. Utilizing integrated pest management strategies and standards in addition to reducing over wintering diseases and insect pests will reduce the cost associated with chemical applications as fewer applications should be needed. Additionally, less infection or damage in the crop means higher yields and an improvement in the quality of the harvest. It is important to realize that the true benefit of post-harvest sanitation may not be realized for several growing seasons. There may be some rapid improvements but have patience when implementing these practices. Small, yet impactful integrated pest management decisions are all part of making your farm or garden more sustainable and your production goals attainable.
Frank Becker is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator with Ohio State University Extension – Wayne County, and a Certified Crop Adviser, and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or email@example.com
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This article was previously published in The Daily Record.