Mike Hornick, staff writer(CORRECTED July 25) I heard echoes of what consumers are asking about fresh produce as grower Rod Koda fielded questions from bloggers touring his Watsonville, Calif., strawberry field.
Yes, a grower can be organic and still use sprays in pest management. No, California growers aren’t producing genetically modified strawberries.
And ground treatments don’t “suck out” soil disease, they suppress it. Pathogens are always there, ready to pounce given opportunity.
Shinta Kawahara Farm was a July 18 stop on a food blogger tour hosted by the California Strawberry Commission.
Disease suppression can be a sensitive topic in California, where the coming phase-out of the fumigant methyl bromide has strawberry growers wondering what will do the job as well.
That’s not clear yet. But Koda told one blogger of a nonchemical technique — anaerobic soil disinfestation — he’s been using for two years.
“There’s a high input of material and it is costly,” he said. “It’s almost $3,000 an acre to do that one technique.”
Nevertheless, his organic strawberries using the method remain profitable.
That’s as far as that particular conversation went. Had the price premium on organic versus conventional come up, it might have been Koda asking the questions.
What premium, if any, is sufficiently low that consumers will sharply increase organic purchases?
A third of his 27-acre operation is organic. Koda, who first grew organic strawberries in 2006, expressed a debt of gratitude you don’t hear outside of agriculture: to aggressive mites and bug vacuums. They control the main insect threats — spider mites and lygus bugs.
“Predatory mites and this machine helped me transition over to organic,” Koda said.
The mites get the spider mites and the “bug vac,” as he calls it, sucks up the lygus. He uses the vacuum on conventional crop, too.
“I thought it would deform the fruit and just make things worse because it vibrates so much,” he said. “But my friends were doing it and they never had problems. They were getting top grade.”
Let that be a lesson. You can’t suck out soil disease, but you can suck up bugs.
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Note on correction: The grower uses predatory mites in pest control. They were incorrectly identified in the original column.