Every farm works hard to protect their crops from the threat of pests. Where a conventional farm might use toxic pesticides (which can harm both land and human), organic operations must come up with other strategies to keep their farm healthy. One way that Frog Hollow does that is by releasing a pest’s natural predator into the orchard to keep the population under control. You don't get much more organic than that: a living organism eating another living organism for the health of the whole. And that’s how Farmer Al and team think of the farm: as a living, breathing ecosystem to keep in balance.
Releasing “good” bugs to eat the “bad” bugs is just one of many strategies in what we call integrated pest management here on the farm. Not only do we protect our trees against pests, but also diseases and environmental stressors. We help our ecosystem self-regulate. And in the process, we don’t harm the trees, the soil, or humans.
Gregg Young, Frog Hollow’s agronomist (or “bug scientist”) assesses the health of the orchards many times a month. He monitors and tracks anything that might threaten the trees and fruit. And then he takes action to protect them.
Last week, for example, we preemptively protected one of our peach orchards against the two-spotted spider mite using a UAV (a drone!). Two-spotted spider mites are pests that suck the moisture from the cells inside leaves and ultimately impair the tree's ability to photosynthesize and grow. They’re a risk to any crops in our area, but the peaches and nectarines we grow are especially vulnerable as compared to our other trees. Gregg teamed up with UAVIQ Precision Agriculture to release the spider mite’s natural predator in the orchard. The predator mite won't eradicate the two-spotted spider mites. Instead, it will keep the population under control.
The predatory mites are tiny red specks in this jar of common gardening material, all of which gets poured into the UAV
Prior to using drones to distribute these predator mites in orchards, farmers released them by hand using tools like leaf-blowers. Not only was it time and labor-intensive, but spraying the mites at such high speeds often damaged them. It was also harder to get the mites into the tops of the trees when spraying down-up like that. A drone is a revolutionary way to protect our orchards from this particular threat. And it was pretty neat watching it take off and fly away into the distance.
Gregg Young and Andreas from UAVIQ Precision Agriculture watching the UAV fly over the orchard