As Harvest Approaches, Meeting Highlights Current Issues

8/31/2013 7:00 AM
By Rick Hemphill Maryland Correspondent

KEEDYSVILLE, Md. — More than 40 vegetable and fruit growers from three states heard new and useful information at the annual horticultural crops twilight meeting Aug. 21 at the University of Maryland’s Western Maryland Research Center, here.

The meeting brought together experts on horticulture, pathology, entomology and soil cultivation.

Brian Butler, a tree fruit educator with the University of Maryland’s Cooperative Extension in Carroll County, said the meetings were started six years ago with an initial focus on pumpkins and high tunnels.

“As issues have arisen like the brown marmorated stink bug and the spotted wing drosophila, we have morphed the meeting to meet the needs of the growers to reflect current issues," Butler said.

Dr. Kari Peters, a plant pathologist at Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center in Biglerville, Pa., did a presentation on spraying and plant infection.

"This is a bad year for bacterial spot and I've had a lot of growers say they have sprayed with this or that and they still have the infection," Peter said. "The chances are you have either missed an infection period and you didn't realize it, or when conditions were right you needed to spray more often. It is all about getting within that window."

Fire blight has also been a problem, Peters said. And with harvest just around the corner, Peters said her goal is to educate growers on managing fruit for post-harvest disease control.

"There is a correlation between nutrient deficient fruit and post harvest diseases. The biggest diseases you have to worry about are the summer diseases and you should use the big guns, Pristine and Merivon. Use one spray towards the end of the season that has post- harvest control and this will prevent the molds in storage even if there is a wound on the fruit," she said.

Dave Myers of the University of Maryland’s Cooperative Extension in Anne Arundel County, spoke about weed control and the benefits of having deep roots in the soil as well as the advantages of strip-till over no-till for slow-growing plants and soil management.

A strip-till machine is similar to a traditional plow-and-disc, tilling the soil profile down to about 6 inches.

"The strip-till plows do require a lot of horsepower, but you are given a very well tilled area the width of your row, which is only about 20 percent of your field," Myers said. "It is a much better to till a field about 1 foot wide every 5 feet when you think about all that fuel, time and the loss of organic matter in a fully tilled field."

Myers called strip-tilling a “strategic tilling system” for deep rooted, slower growing plants that can be direct seeded or transplanted. But not all crops respond well to strip-till.

"Pumpkins are big seeds and they get out of the ground fast, so they work with no-till systems quite well, whereas strip-till will help watermelons measurably since they are much slower growers," he said.

Kathryne Everts, a professor and Extension specialist at the University of Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore Research & Education Center, talked about major infestations of pumpkins as part of a pumpkin project she is coordinating.

"It depends on your farm and the history of what you planted year in and year out, but the biggest limiter for a good yield is powdery mildew," Everts said. "However, when you get downey mildew early as happened this year, it can wipe out your crops faster."

This is the second year of Everts’ pumpkin experiment, as she explained to growers what to look for in their fields.

As the meeting moved into the fields, Everts pointed out the various spray trials and the effects on the crops.

"There is a lot of powdery mildew here," Everts said. "Powdery mildew loves mild temperatures, low light intensity and high humidity. My philosophy on pumpkin diseases is hit them fast. You want to suppress that disease curve, so come in with something really good like Quintec for your first application and alternate your applications with Rally or sulphur.

"Sulphur, for as old as it is, is a pretty darn good product," she said.

As the group walked past the pumpkin trials toward the apple root stock orchard, Dr. Tracey Leskey, a USDA research entomologist, was waiting to discuss the invasive brown marmorated stink bug. The USDA, in cooperation with other agencies and commercial ventures, has developed a pheromone to attract the bugs, as well as a methodology to track them.

"Our advancement with brown marmorated stink bug and the identification of the pheromone and the synergist that we can use in combination to attract the bugs to traps allows us to look at seasonal patterns of activity and overall density," Leskey said. "The next step would be to design attract-and-kill strategies with our pheromone synergist combo, and then annihilate them."

Leskey also presented a trial designed to control the spotted wing drosophila.

"We have been testing these hanging red colored insecticide control spheres and when placed in a trio of raspberry plants, we reduced infestation by 50 percent," Leskey said. "Red and black are more visually stimulating for the fly and we have been hanging the spheres at a rate of 1 per plant. The combination of spheres and regular spraying reduced the number of flies per berry from 7.1 to 2.93, so this is a proof of concept.

"There are a lot of things we need to find out yet, but we think this kind of system can be useful to our growers."

Chris Walsh, professor of horticulture at the University of Maryland, talked about the future of orchards and the development of different cropping systems.

"What I am trying to do is to create an apple tree that does not have to use poles or wires and still create great canopy volume, good light on the fruit and have no pruning requirement," Walsh said.

As he displayed two very different apple branches — one from a traditional gala tree and one from a hybrid tree he developed — he told the group of a different approach to breeding trees he’s been working on.

"We found some trees that were more grower friendly in 1991. I took the best of those that didn't get fire blight and hybridized them with Pink Lady, Fuji, McIntosh, Rayburn and Goldrush," he said. "What I am looking for is something that you don't have to trim, has resistance to fire blight, with firmness you can sell that is built for this environment

"All of the trees behind you are my second generation trees. I don't prune them and you start picking stuff by the third leaf and have a full crop by the fourth leaf,” he added. "We plan to patent them this November and when the patent is approved, we can begin propagating them.

“It is 22 years of work and we finally got something."

For growers in attendance, the twilight meeting not only gave them a chance to hear about the latest research, but to also hear about current issues impacting growers.

"We are checking out the pumpkin project to find out what diseases we may get and how to prevent them," said Mary Poffenbarger, who attended the meeting with her husband, John. The couple own Lock Farm in Woodsboro, Md. "We are a vegetable farm with a little bit of everything, with a CSA program that is very successful."

Controlling downy on crops was very important to Dwight Baugher of Baugher Enterprises, a 680-acre tree fruit and vegetable operation in Westminster, Md.

"This is very relevant to me. We have to understand the different approaches to downy on different crops,” Baugher said. "Can you spray every week or can you stretch it? Where do you have your butt hanging out and where do you not? Seeing the results of this is important to me."

"We come here every year and it is definitely the bomb," Ben Butler, 24, of Butler’s Orchards, a 300-acre operation in Germantown, Md. "We do apples and it is good to be here to let us know that we are doing the right thing. The big thing for us is the networking with other growers who have been doing this for a long time. We try to make it not just for the information presented here, but also to meet the other people. "There are a lot of smart people here and they have a lot to offer."

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