Two successful organic producers were among those recently recognized for pest control innovation by California officials. The state's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced recipients of its Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovator Awards last month, and among the awardees were Dixon Ridge Farms and Bonterra (Fetzer) Vineyards. I was delighted to see the two award winners featured again last week at the annual EcoFarm conference, a three-day gathering of thousands of organic growers, input providers, processors, distributors, academics, government agencies, non-profit organizations and eaters near Monterey, California.
Both the DPR awards and the EcoFarm conference highlight stories of farmers implementing multiple conservation strategies inextricably linked to one another — a hallmark of organic management practices and a healthy on-farm ecosystem. The elimination of hazardous pesticides not only benefits the health of workers and rural communities, it is also key to build biologically healthy soil. An active, healthy soil community in turn builds soil fertility and structure that can support vigorous crops resistant to pests and disease.
The award-winning efforts at Dixon Ridge and Bonterra Vineyards clearly illustrate the importance of building a healthy farm ecosystem based on living soil:
- Dixon Ridge Farms, located in Solano and Yolo counties produces organic walnuts on a commercial scale using a farming system designed for smaller, diversified farming. Their cover-crop management technique provides habitat for beneficial insects, produces seed and returns organic matter to preserve soil fertility and crop resistance to disease. They also use walnut shells and solar panels to generate energy.
- Bonterra (Fetzer) Vineyards is a top producer of organic winegrapes in California. For more than 20 years, Bonterra has used cover crops to attract beneficial insects; weather forecasting to monitor for pests and diseases; mechanical weed control; and conservation and enhancement of habitat to attract beneficial insects and birds. On some of its vineyards, Bonterra also grazes sheep and chickens to control pests and weeds and provide soil nutrients and has collaborated with the local Resource Conservation District on creek restoration projects.
As a soil ecologist, I get excited when farmers' efforts to build healthy soil get the spotlight they deserve. Kudos to the soil-building innovators, and to DPR for highlighting their success.