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January 27, 2011

California IPM Innovators Honored

Growing Produce News
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Today the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) recognized a diverse group of businesses and organizations as 2010 IPM Innovators. They control insects, weeds, rodents and other pests with a combination of natural and preventive strategies and pesticides less toxic than traditional treatments.

“Integrated pest management, or IPM, is being used by this year’s honorees in innovative and effective ways to reduce pesticide use,” DPR Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam said. “We are proud to showcase their efforts that range from free tours of native plant gardens that thrive without pesticides, pioneering strategies to grow organic walnuts and winegrapes, technology that helps farmers make data-driven decisions and incentives to encourage more environmentally friendly pest control.”

This year’s recipients include two growers, Dixon Ridge Farms and Bonterra (Fetzer) Vineyards, and a company that develops farming management information systems and sustainability self-assessment programs for growers, SureHarvest. The three other winners were the University of California Statewide IPM Program and Natural Resources Conservation Service Partnership, the Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour, and the Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California.

Dixon Ridge Farms, based in Solano and Yolo counties, is a pioneer in sustainable walnut production that took a sustainable farming and processing system that works for smaller, diversified farming and raised it to the commercial scale. Its cover crop management technique provides habitat for beneficial insects, produces seed and returns organic matter to preserve soil fertility.

The walnut growing and processing operation converted to organic production in 1989 after implementing a number of IPM practices to control pests and water runoff. These include replacing synthetic nitrogen fertilizers with composted turkey manure; incorporating chipped prunings back into the orchard; encouraging beneficial insects; using earthworms to improve water infiltration and soil health and prevent root rot; and freezing insects to death rather than killing them with methyl bromide during processing. The business has further reduced its environmental footprint by converting walnut shells into energy, using recycled materials in its packaging and installing solar panels on its buildings.

Bonterra (Fetzer) Vineyards, a top producer of organic winegrapes in California, is a wine industry pioneer, using certified organic practices and an IPM approach to manage pests on its 950 acres in Mendocino County. The Bonterra (Fetzer) brand is the No. 1 selling wine made with organic grapes in the U.S.

For more than 20 years, Bonterra Vineyards has been an innovator in developing cover crops to attract beneficial insects; using weather forecasting to monitor for pests and diseases; mechanically controlling under-the-vine weeds; and conserving and enhancing habitat to attract beneficial insects and birds. On some of its vineyards, Bonterra also grazes sheep and chickens between vines to control pests and weeds and provide soil nutrients. In addition, it has collaborated with the local Resource Conservation District on creek restoration projects.

Bonterra has a long history of working with University of California Cooperative Extension scientists and others on pest management and related research. Bonterra staff regularly provide education through seminars, workshops, conferences, field events and technical advising to growers on organic and sustainable viticulture practices.

SureHarvest is a privately held company based in Santa Cruz County that was founded in 1999 to develop farming management information systems and sustainability self-assessment programs that help growers make data-driven decisions about IPM and other sustainable farming practices. “Our work at SureHarvest, and that of my fellow honorees, and those before us that have earned this award, represents a manifestation of the groundbreaking contributions of Hagen, van de Bosch, Huffaker and Stern who built the scientific foundations of IPM at UC Berkeley and UC Riverside,” stated Dr. Cliff Ohmart, VP of Professional Services for SureHarvest. “We stand on their shoulders today and I thank DPR for continuing to recognize this important aspect of pest management.”

Beginning in 2001, SureHarvest led a collaborative effort among the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers in the formation of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. A multi-stakeholder team built a self-assessment program covering 227 vineyard and winery practices called the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices, building on the Lodi Winegrowers Workbook. From 2002–2004, SureHarvest coordinated 72 workshops with more than 1000 participants from 800 vineyard enterprises and 125 winery facilities to complete self-assessments. Using the SureHarvest Sustainability MIS, a web-based software platform, SureHarvest prepared benchmark reports with aggregate results for the trade associations and confidential reports for individual growers to compare sustainability performance. IPM adoption and energy efficiency were identified as priorities for continuous improvement.

From 2004-2009, 131 pest management workshops were held involving more than 7,400 vintners and growers. In 2009, 1,237 vineyards and 329 wineries re-assessed their practices using the web-based platform. The 2009 Progress Report revealed that vineyard performance increased for 35 of the 38 pest management criteria measured. The SWP is the largest agricultural sustainability program in the nation involving 68.1% of the 526,000 total statewide vineyard acres and 62.5% of 240 million total statewide cases of wine produced in California.

“This is a great honor, not just for SureHarvest, but for the California winegrowing industry itself, who leads the nation in agricultural sustainability and enjoys the reputation as a sustainability leader among its global competition,” stated SureHarvest President and CEO, Dr. Jeff Dlott, who authors a column on sustainability for American Vegetable Grower magazine.