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Hogs Successfully Manage Insects and Weeds on Organic Apple Farm

(Beyond Pesticides, March 14, 2008) An innovative pilot program integrating organic apple and organic pork production proves successful by decreasing pest problems and increasing farm profitability, according to the initial results of a one-year USDA Integrated Organic Program funded study.Jim Koan, owner of Al-Mar Orchards in Flushing, Michigan, had been fighting the plum curculio (PC) beetle, a major pest of pome and stone fruits. Mr. Koan decided to team up with David Epstein, Tree Fruit IPM Integrator with the Michigan State University IPM Program, to study a way to control the beetles without using hazardous pesticides. They are finding that hogs are the answer Mr. Koan was looking for.

The pilot program results showed that in three days, twenty-seven, two-month old Berkshire hogs ate more than 98 percent of the dropped apples in one-acre plots, many of which were infested with PC larvae. Mr. Epstein found that the PC do not survive in the hog digestive system. Thus, subsequent summer feedings by the PC on apples decreased five-fold where hogs grazed. Without the hogs eating the PC infested apples, the larvae in the apples would have moved into the soil and later during the summer, re-emerged to feed on the fruit remaining on the tree.

Young hogs, less than 60 pounds, were found to be the most suitable for the apple farm as they were more likely to forage throughout the one-acre plots, rooting shallowly. Larger hogs, greater than 60 pounds, preferred staying in shadier areas and rooted so deeply that they exposed tree roots. Mr. Epstein also found that “hogs grazing and rooting provided superior weed control and improved nutrient availability.”

For fruit producers with on-farm markets, locally produced organic meat products can provide additional income. Although Mr. Koan’s hogs did not reach a desirable market weight at 8 months, he will harvest them when they reach a live weight of 100kg, expected sometime this month.

After showing favorable results from the pilot project, the team is looking to additional funding to continue with the study and begin measuring hog food intake in a laboratory growth study.

For more information on organic agriculture, see Beyond Pesticides Organic Food pages.


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