Peach Leaf Curl – It’s time!

Peach leaf curl, also known as leaf curl, is a disease caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans. Peach leaf curl affects the blossoms, fruit, leaves, and shoots of peaches, ornamental flowering peaches, and nectarines, and is one of the most common disease problems for Texas Peaches. The distorted, reddened foliage that it causes is easily seen in spring. When severe, the disease can even reduce fruit production substantially. If you saw leaves that looked anything like the ones above, you may want to consider treatment.

Leaf symptoms appear about 2 weeks after leaves emerge from buds. The fungus grows between leaf cells and stimulates them to divide and grow larger than normal, causing swelling and distortion of the leaf. Red plant pigments accumulate in the distorted cells as you can see in the picture above.

Why am I writing about this disease now since we won’t see it till spring? Well, this disease has gone through the summer and is on the tree now as ascospores (sexual spores) and bud-conidia (asexual spores) on the tree’s surfaces, such as leaves, buds, bark, etc. As we get into the fall and much cooler temperatures or even a frost the leaves will begin to fall off. This leaf abscission (separation of the leaf from the tree) is actually a wound. When you have a wound, you have a place for these disease spores to enter the tree. Any dew, light rain or even wind can move spores to the wound.

Treatment

So, as the leaves begin falling off or after they have all fallen off, it is time to consider a treatment. Generally, a single early treatment when the tree is dormant is effective, although in areas of high rainfall or during a particularly wet winter, it might be advisable to apply a second spray late in the dormant season, preferably as flower buds begin to swell but before green leaf tips are first visible.

Historically, the most commonly and basically only fungicide for organic growers to use are the fixed copper products (see below for a list). For all copper-containing products, the active ingredient, copper, is listed as “metallic copper equivalent,” or MCE, on the label. Various product formulations differ widely in their metallic copper content. The higher the MCE, the greater the amount of copper and the more effective the product will be. However, other factors such as coverage, use of additives as such stickers and spreaders, and frequency and duration of rain, which can wash off the copper, also will impact product effectiveness. In all cases, the copper is active only when it is wet, when the copper ions are in solution. Thorough coverage is very important but without leaves not that hard. It is really good to get a calm day, lower pressure down, try to get a mist out of your spray tips and make sure the limbs are wet.

Active IngredientTrade NameCompany
copper hydroxideKocide-2000/3000
Champ ION or WG
Certis
NuFarm
copper octanoateCuevaCertis
Copper oxychloride 23.82%  
Copper Hydroxide 21.49%
Badge X2Gowan
copper sulphate (pentahydrate)Cuproxat
Instill O
Troya
NuFarm
Sym Agro
Oro Agri

As I first said, It’s time! It’s time for all you peach growers to get that sprayer back out, purchase your spray product, and SPRAY!

Beneficials and biologicals: Two is better than one!

Above is biological insecticide – Beauveria bassiana on thrip adult.
Below is beneficial nematode – Steinernema feltiae attacking thrip larva.

Does it pay to use a biological insecticide and apply a beneficial insect at the same time? Will they compete with each other, or will they actually help each other? I recently was sent a study published in 2021 by a USDA researcher who has done some great work with both biologicals and beneficial insects. Dr. David Shapiro-Ilan is with the USDA Fruit and Tree Laboratory in Byron, Georgia. He has done some good work on biological insect control in pecan orchards and so seeing his name on this study got my attention.

The title is: Combined Effect of Entomopathogens against Thrips tabaci: Laboratory, Greenhouse and Field Trials. In this study Dr. Shapiro-Ilan and other researchers looked at the use of two different biological insecticides, Beauveria bassiana (BoteGHA ES, SPE-120, MycoTrol, Botanigard, etc.) and Metarhizium anisopliae (Novozymes was producing Met 52 EC but hard to find now). These two biological insecticides are effective, to a degree, and used for many insect species.

The researchers also looked at two beneficial nematode species for control of thrips, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora and Steinernema feltiae. These two nematodes can infect the soil dwelling stage for thrips or pre-pupae and pupae stages.

Then the researchers also looked at the additive or synergistic effects of adding a biological insecticide and a beneficial nematode together. This is where it got interesting, singularly, none of the treatments alone did as well as they did working together – a biological combined with a beneficial. In fact, the effect was dramatic and statistically significant.

The best treatment was a combination of the biological Beauveria bassiana with the Heterorhabditis bacteriophora nematode. Almost as good was the biological Metarhizium anisopliae with the Steinernema feltiae nematode. The interesting thing was that the combination of Beauveria bassiana and Heterorhabditis bacteriophora nematode had a synergistic effect on each other. They worked well together, much better than the addition of each individual’s % control! The other combinations also worked well together but the effect was additive and not synergistic, meaning that the combination was the addition of the % control of one, added to the % control of the other. Also, the combinations can be tank mixed for field applications and result in much better thrips control than either biocontrol alone. As a reminder, always apply beneficials late in the evening as temperatures are moderating.

What is the downside? The cost biocontrol can be expensive! The research trial used upwards of 1 billion nematodes per acre which would cost about $500 per acre. Most beneficial companies recommend 50 million nematodes per acre which is around $70 per acre – this is somewhat affordable. The cost of the either biological insecticide is around $75 per acre, so that the cost of both together is somewhere close to $150 per acre for thrips control in onions. Is that going to work? Depends on the cost of the onions! What this research does show is that biocontrol works and works well. Affording it is up to you!

Have you considered lifestyle as a reason for organic consumption?

Typically, there are a few concepts that people feel strongly reflect the organic buying habits of consumers. Most agree that: women buy more organic foods; people in higher economic classes buy more organic foods; and higher educated people buy more organic foods. This is the reason that you will find more organic food stores or stores that sell organic food items, located near highly affluent neighborhoods versus lower income neighborhoods.

These are accepted facts, but recently I was sent a 2022 research article published in Heliyon, which is an open-source journal available on Science Direct, that has challenged those facts. In this article, the authors look at the impacts of social class as well as lifestyle surrounding the consumption of organic foods in South Korea. They specifically are comparing income-level and education to a “lifestyle” for the decisions related to organic purchases and consumption. Lifestyle is defined as the relationship between the individual’s personality and the person’s living environment (not your education or wealth). Even though it is research in South Korea, they still closely align with what we would expect in the United States.

The premise or hypothesis for this research is that an individual’s lifestyle is likely to be associated with consumer behavior for organic food consumption and that those elements reflecting a person’s lifestyle can influence organic food consumption substantially or in research terms, be statistically significant.

For this research on lifestyle and how it influences purchases they looked at these variables – interests, opinions and activities. They utilized variables like this: an individual’s interest in organic foods, awareness of the health and environmental impacts of organic food consumption, and willingness to consume organic food at higher prices.

In layman’s terms, they found that experiences like attendance at food-related educational events; an interest in organic foods; an awareness of the impact of organic foods; and a willingness to purchase organic foods, all had a greater influence on the consumption of organic foods than did social status i.e., wealth and education. To put it simply, price may be the first reason given for not buying organic, but these other experiences can easily override price objections. We all know folks that bought something they thought was too expensive but still had reasons to want it beyond price!

Basically, the more organic education we do, the purchase of organic foods and/or the consumption of organic foods will be greater across all socioeconomic classes of people. Organic is not just for the higher income/ higher educated classes of people but instead, if educated, are desired and preferred by all classes!

This is not really in-depth research as much as it is a look at some “research” findings and drawing some conclusions. They are of course open to interpretation, but for me, I think we in organic agriculture do need to educate the consumer more than has been done. We also don’t need to ever say that low-income or even lower middle-income consumers are not going to purchase organic because of the price. With education, this research article would say, they are just as likely if not more likely to buy organic than the higher income-higher educated consumer!

Upcoming Programs

Here are the dates of upcoming programs and most have some presentation that will include organic. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to call or email because things do change!

December 7-9 – USA Rice Outlook Conference in Austin

Tuesday, January 10 – Blackland Income Growth (BIG) in Waco at the BASE. Agriculture educational seminars, equipment displays and exhibitors. Talk on organic agriculture and assorted certification programs.

Wednesday, January 18 – Western Rice Conference in El Campo, Texas at the El Campo Civic Center. Plenty of seminars on rice production including organic rice with exhibits for rice production.

Thursday, January 26 – Southeast Rice Symposium in Winnie, Texas at the Winnie Stowell Community Building. Again, plenty of rice production seminars and organic rice with exhibitors about rice and rice production.

Sunday, January 29 – Tuesday, January 31 – Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA) Meeting in Mesquite, TX

Saturday, February 11 – Tarrant County Farmers Market Meeting in Fort Worth. Talk about organic marketing and organic vegetable production.

Tuesday, February 21 – Soil Health Clinic in Olton, Texas. Discussion for improving soil health, measuring soil health, cover crops for soil health.

Wednesday, February 22 – Sandyland Ag Conference in Seminole, Texas.

Wednesday, February 22 – Spinach Field Day in La Pryor, Texas. A look at varieties and spinach production systems.

Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP)

The Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) is investing up to $100 million over five years in cooperative agreements with non-profit organizations who will partner with others to provide technical assistance and wrap-around support for transitioning and existing organic farmers. Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is building partnership networks in six regions across the United States with trusted organizations serving direct farmer training, education, and outreach activities.

As you can see, Texas is in the West/Southwest region. The USDA partner organization for our region is CCOF out of California. I recently had a long conversation with the two organizers of TOPP from CCOF, Jessy Parr and Adrian Fischer to discuss organic farmers in Texas and interest in transitioning to organic. As you can see from the map Texas A&M AgriLife Extension will be a partner in this effort with CCOF.

The USDA partner organizations will do the following, but they will do this through their partners in each region.

  • Connect transitioning farmers with mentors for at least one year after certification.
  • Build paid mentoring networks to share practical insights and advice.
  • Provide community building opportunities to include:
    • Train-the-mentor support
    • Technical assistance
    • Workshops and field days covering topics including organic production practices, certification, conservation planning, business development (including navigating the supply chain), regulations, and marketing
  • Help producers overcome technical, cultural, and financial shifts during and following certification.
  • Engage educational and training institutions (including crop advisors and extension agents) on organic workforce training and education and future human capital planning. 

Composts and Herbicides Don’t Mix

This well written post on the Green Corn Project website details a problem we are having in compost in Texas. I have been getting some questioning emails about this and so below is what I wrote in an email to a concerned organic producer. I have tried to be fair but when it happens to you it is very frustrating and difficult not to lash out. Hopefully I won’t get beat down too bad for writing this blog!

Dow AgroSciences now known as Corteva makes the Grazon Next herbicide with aminopyralid and 2,4-D in a premix.  It has been on the market for years but was generally more expensive than a common pasture and hay field herbicide known as Weedmaster or its generics which is a premix of Banvel (dicamba) and 2,4-D.  Grazon Next is a popular herbicide but until the last few years the extra expense did slow its use somewhat.

Grazon Next has on its label below that it is only to be used on forage intended to be used on the farm and manure is not to be composted and used on vegetables. When a producer buys Grazon Next, they are required to be warned about this restriction. I really do believe that most producers who use the product know the danger, whether they abide by it or not. 

As a chemical used on hay or pasture crops and then fed to cattle it is really interesting because it does not break down in the animal but instead stays intact as aminopyralid. This is one reason why EPA has less trouble labeling it for animal feed, it is safe for animals and does what it says it will do in a pasture.  I am not justifying its use, only trying to understand why it is used.

Weedmaster is not persistent in the environment for more than a couple of weeks and certainly not persistent in manure used for compost. Grazon Next, on the other hand, can last up to 18 months in the environment, but generally speaking in my experience, only about 6 months or so.  Animals that eat treated grass will then excrete (poop!) manure with aminopyralid and that composted manure will have aminopyralid for about 6-10 months. The label says 18 months which is a field treatment at the highest rate of Grazon Next. There are all kinds of conditions that will speed up this breakdown process.

The past two years have been a perfect storm for this problem to get hugely worse.  The Weedmaster (or generics like it) has Banvel, and Banvel is now a common herbicide used in cotton because of GMO cotton with Banvel herbicide resistance.  This has significantly increased the use of Banvel and caused a shortage which caused the prices to go up.  This caused Weedmaster to be in short supply and more expensive than Grazon Next in many cases.  Also, Grazon Next or better said, the aminopyralid in Grazon Next, is available generically now which means more companies selling similar products at a cheaper price. 

So, the cheaper aminopyralid products and lack of supply of Weedmaster or Banvel caused many hay producers to switch and save money.  Hay has been in short supply and dairies have been getting it from anyone and anywhere they could, no questions asked.  Dairies, and to a smaller extent, feedlots are a big supplier of manure for compost operations all over the state and this perfect storm has opened up the potential for compost to have aminopyralid in it.  My local compost supplier had the same problem when they got manure with aminopyralid in it.  As a result, there was aminopyralid in the compost I bought, and it has lasted from May to September.  It is about over because I now have broadleaf weeds coming up in the compost pile!

One last thing that also makes this an issue, the compost industry has had a perfect storm itself.  The high synthetic fertilizer prices have caused all producers to search out cheaper sources of nutrients.  Compost suppliers usually have more than they can handle on their operations and want to sell it. Along comes field crop producers who are hit with high fertilizer prices, compost has what they need, and the price is low compared to synthetics.  This year compost has been hard to get because of demand. Compost yards have really pushed their compost process so that they are sending out compost/manure very fast after receiving it from the farm.  I have seen some compost that I think was just really mixed-up manure with no compost time or mixed with some small amount of compost.  Usually, the compost process and the time it takes, breaks down aminopyralid somewhat, but this year compost flew off the shelves because of high fertilizer prices. That has left very little time for the compost process to break down the chemical like there had been in years past.

I will close with this, there are some really great chicken compost facilities in East Texas making easy to spread compost crumbles. The cost is close to the same price as a few cow compost facilities are selling cow compost and chicken compost has more nutrients.  Chickens are not feed anything that contains aminopyralid – just sayin!