Apple Growers Trim Pesticides From the Farm

  • Bill Erwin and a number of other Michigan apple growers are involved in a huge project to reduce pesticide use in orchards. Erwin says he's among those who will continue the practice.

No one likes the idea of pesticides in baby food. But nobody likes the idea of a worm in an apple either. So apple growers have been involved in a three year project to reduce pesticides, but still turn out a crop that’s not plagued by insects. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


No one likes the idea of pesticides in baby food. But nobody likes the idea of a worm in
an apple either. Apple growers have been involved in a three year project to reduce
pesticides, but still turn out a crop that’s not plagued by insects. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Gerber makes baby food. A lot of those little jars of fruit use apples in the mix. A few
years ago the Consumers Union, an arm of the magazine Consumer reports, called for the
end of the use of many of the pesticides that end up in children’s food. And the
Environmental Working Group issued a scathing report on pesticides in kid’s food. Like
other baby food makers, Gerber knew it had to do something. It started with improving
methods to wash off or peel off pesticide residue on apples. But, there was only so much
that could be done in the plant.

Todd DeKryger is with Gerber Baby Foods. He says Gerber’s plants did what they could
to get rid of pesticide residue, but it wasn’t enough.

“Our customers were telling us, ‘We don’t want residues in the products we buy from
Gerbers.’ We turn around and tell our growers ‘We need a product without pesticide
residues.’ And it’s really been amazing how they have really bought into that whole idea
of providing a product. You know, and they say ‘Hey, look. We fed our kids Gerber and,
uh, yeah, okay, this makes sense. Now, how can I help?'”

Gerber got some help from a firm based in North Carolina. The Center for Agricultural
Partnerships contacted Gerber at its main plant in Michigan as well as Michigan State
University’s Extension Service and apple growers. They had money to pay for
publications and free consultants for three years for growers who wanted to try a way to
control bugs in the orchards called ‘Integrated Pest Management’ or IPM.

Larry Elworth is with the Center. He says IPM. has worked for other types of fruit
growers, but expertise was needed for the particular climates and growing conditions in
Michigan’s apple orchards to make IPM effective.

“It’s become a way of managing pests that gives growers way more information to use so
they can actually outsmart the insects rather than always relying on a chemical as the way
to control them.”

(apple picking sound)

That all sounded good, but no one had tried it in the apple orchards on a large scale.

“Well, our main concern was whether it was going to work or not.”

Bill Erwin operates Erwin Orchards and Cider Mill.

(sound of rolling apples)

Apple pickers are plucking fruit and gently rolling the apples into a big wooden crate for
shipping to retailers. Erwin says it seemed risky to change farming methods in the

“We’ve been used to the chemistries. We’ve been used to the program and, uh, we
weren’t sure that using lighter chemistries was going to work and we weren’t sure that we
were going to be able to control the bugs.”

Erwin says pesticides are reliable. They kill bugs. The fruit looks good. And the orchard
is nice looking in that there’s no wildlife, bugs, birds or otherwise in the area for very
long. But Erwin says all the beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and spiders that eat bugs
that ruin fruit were also gone. Erwin says he noticed something else that bothered him –
humming bird nests – but no baby humming birds.

So, Erwin and a lot of other Michigan apple growers gave Integrated Pest Management a
shot. Erwin says they found using tactics such as mating disruption of pests works. The
worm in the apple is actually the coddling moth’s larvae which burrow into the fruit.
Apple growers used the female coddling moth’s pheremones against the insect. By
saturating the orchard with pheremones, males didn’t know which way to turn to find a
mate. No mate, no eggs. No eggs, no worm in the apple. And Erwin says he noticed
something else.

“Now we find humming birds. We find little baby humming bird nests everywhere in this
orchard. We see bluebirds out here. You never used to see those. And, so, we know we’re
doing something good with the environment and that makes us feel good about this
program. They’ve taught us something and it’s gonna be something we’re going to keep
going with.”

And it appears the results are good.

The Center for Agricultural Partnership’s Larry Elworth says the three year project was a

“Growers had at least as good if not better quality apple crops than they had before. Fewer bites
from insects chewing on the surface. A lot fewer worms that had burrowed inside the
apples which gave them a higher quality crop and they actually got more revenue for
their crop than they’d been getting before. And they were also able to reduce their overall
costs for controlling insects.”

Gerber Baby Foods is relieved. By getting orchards closer to its plant to reduce pesticide
use, it’s ensured a local supply of apples. Otherwise, it meant trucking in fruit from
farther away and paying more for fruit that met consumers’ demands for pesticide free
baby food.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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