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Transitioning farm embraces beneficial bugs

OSU-sponsored tour teaches participants benefits of keeping native insects around


For the Capital Press

The owners' plan at Riverbend Organic Farms to transition from conventional farming practices on their 500 acres of mostly blueberries to certified organic production has a few bugs in it, but not nearly enough.

The farm, a few miles southeast of Jefferson, Ore., currently includes 212 acres of blueberries that nestle among unplanted floodplain land, riparian and wooded areas and acreage to be planted to cane berries and other blueberry varieties. Eric Pond is the farm's manager.

About 15 or so participants in the Oregon State University Integrated Pest Protection Center's Farmscaping for Beneficials Project educational tour were treated to a four-hour "experiential event," in the words of the IPPC director Paul Jepson.

"These events have educational value," Jepson said, "and provide empowerment by giving people the ability to make decisions about ... ecological manipulation" through the use of native bees, predators and parasitic wasps.

"We're getting a bit of a blueberry focus," he said, explaining his interest in Riverbend Organic Farms.

Gwendolyn Ellen, the IPPC's Farmscaping for Beneficials Project director, said the college is taking a "participatory approach" in working with farmers for conservation and biological control -- proposing methods of keeping beneficial insects on their farms.

In the audience for the Jefferson tour were a soil conservationist, a hobby orchardist, OSU graduate students, an organic farm owner, entomologists, a purveyor of organic composts, a member of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and a Halsey-area ryegrass farm owner who is transitioning to organic production.

Pond said Riverbend's owners are "passionate about organic farming practices and intent on reducing the farm's carbon footprint" by transitioning Riverbend to organic production.

"The biggest problem we face in organic farming used to be weeds, but now it's pests such as leaf borers, cane borers and the like," Pond said. He took note of Jepson's mention that OSU soon would be producing an organic Integrated Pest Management guide.

The use of beneficial insects, such as parasitic wasps and ladybugs, to stem the growth of predatory insects, and encouraging native bees such as bumblebees to help in pollination chores now mostly done by domesticated honeybees are crucial to the new farming scheme.

The group heard presentations by Ellen, Pond, the IPPC's Len Coop and the Xerces Society's Mace Vaughan, then took a 90-minute tour of insect, bird and habitat at Riverbend, afterwards collaborating on a farmscape plan. They then heard from John Miller of Mahonia Vineyards and Nursery on the subject of native plant availability.

"Diversity is the key to the planning process," Coop said. "We call it 'conservation biocontrol' -- encouraging the native species to make the best of what we have" on the farm.

Ellen said the farmscape plan created at the end of the tour focused on three areas of Riverbend that could be planted to native plants for pollinators.

"(Pond) has some real challenges as to invasive species on his farm," Ellen said.

She said the farmscape plan listed a narrow strip of land in a floodplain, a large wooded area and a low-area slough that could be enhanced with native plants to give food and shelter to friendly insects doing the heavy lifting of pollination chores in his blueberries.

"Eric is very interested in working with his neighbors to help enhance this habitat, so I felt this tour was very successful," Ellen said.




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