EQIP Saves The Day

EQIP Saves The Day

Sparks, Brian

TWO of the biggest challenges today’s fruit growers face in building a successful operation are keeping costs down, and maintaining environmentally friendly pest management practices. In North Carolina and other states across the country, some growers have a chance to work their way through both of these challenges at the same time.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a federally funded program administered at the state level, provides growers with matching funds for the implementation of certain practices that promote environmental stewardship. In many cases, these practices involve integrated pest management (IPM) or similar programs.

Bob Carter of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Henderson County, NC, says he has worked closely with growers over the past four years on developing IPM programs. In this case, it involves hiring qualified scouts to go into an orchard and make spray program recommendations. “Many of the growers have told us that there are several different benefits,” says Carter. For example, most of the newer soft pesticides that growers are now using are more specifically targeted and require more management in terms of identifying the life cycle and stages of insect pests so you know when to apply them. Rather than applying too much material, the growers turn to the scouts, who should be familiar with insect populations in that area and can recommend when an application should be made. In fact, Carter says the growers he works with report saving an average of 20% to 30% of the cost of insect control materials.

In addition to helping growers control pests, the scouts can also keep up with predators and beneficials. “I think we’re getting not only better efficiency with the materials we’re putting on, but the scouts are also taking the predators into consideration,” says Carter.

Additional EQIP Programs

Aside from hiring scouts to boost IPM programs, apple growers in North Carolina have used EQIP for other cost-saving ventures as well.

* Abandoned orchard removal. Left untouched, these orchards can become a haven for disease, forcing neighboring growers to make more applications because of the high pest volume. Through a deal with officials in Henderson County, growers who wish to have abandoned orchards removed only have to pay 25% of the cost, with EQIP paying the remaining 75% (if the grower’s income is below the median county income, the county picks up the remainder).

* Precision sprayers. Under a state program enacted in 2003, NRCS was able to use pilot money to help two growers use smart precision sprayers. These sprayers use sonar to tailor the spray pattern to the shape of each tree. Through EQIP, once the grower purchases a precision sprayer, they are paid a certain dollar amount (about 50% to 75%) for each acre they use the smart sprayer.

One of these growers is Kenny Barnwell of Kenny Barnwell Orchards in Edneyville, NC. Barnwell’s orchards have several skips and patterns, and the ability to tailor his spray pattern has resulted in about a 35% reduction in material application. In fact, Barnwell says he will likely pay for the precision sprayer in its first year of use.

* Chemical storage. Enacted about eight years ago, this program designed new buildings where growers could store and fill their sprayers, complete with sumps to catch any overflow. So far, Carter says the program has helped rebuild about 30 ag chemical handling facilities.

About 40 to 50 growers in Henderson County have taken advantage of EQIP so far, according to Carter. Carter points out that other states have EQIP programs as well, with as much or even more activity as in North Carolina. For more information on the federal EQIP program and what is happening in your state, go to www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/eqip.

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Copyright Meister Media Worldwide Jan 2005

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