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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Organic farm walks focus on making better use of nature's pest management services

A great way to learn about farming techniques is to visit successful operations. With the increased interest in organic farming, an opportunity is being afforded for new and transitioning organic growers to visit farms and observe some of the ways they can manage pests and encourage beneficial insects.

New Mexico State University's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture's Organic Program are presenting a series of four farm tours hosted by organic growers throughout New Mexico, who produce a variety of crops.

"These on-farm workshops provide an opportunity to view both pest and beneficial insects on a variety of crops, and to discuss approaches to their management within organic cropping systems," said Tessa Grasswitz, NMSU's integrated pest management specialist. "We will introduce the concept of 'farmscaping' and other techniques aimed at increasing the number of beneficial organisms."

Such methods include the use of "insectary" plants, hedgerows, cover crops, nest boxes or roosting sites, which can attract and support beneficial organisms such as predatory and parasitic insects, spiders, birds and bats, all of which can help suppress insect pests and/or problem vertebrates such as mice and gophers.

"Each workshop will consist of a farm walk and discussion," said Joanie Quinn, NMDA's organic adviser. "Come and enjoy an opportunity to meet other like-minded growers, view different crops and pests, and learn from each other."

The first farm tour will be Thursday, Aug. 15, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Thompson Farm in Edgewood.

"Bob Thompson sells certified organic vegetables at three area farmers' markets and has recently added an apple orchard to the farm," Quinn said. "His hens produce certified organic eggs on this diverse farm."

The second farm tour will be Sunday, Aug. 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Veronica Serna's farm in Buena Vista, near Mora.

"Veronica will guide us through her meadows of timothy and orchard grass, which provide a diverse refuge for beneficial insects," said Grasswitz of the Mora Growers' Cooperative member. "Her hoop house-based mixed vegetable operation includes lettuce, tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and peppers."

The third farm tour will be Sunday, Sept. 8, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Skarsgard Farms in Albuquerque.

"Monte Skarsgard will host the tour of his farm that is a certified organic 1,300-member CSA (community-supported agriculture), wholesale and farmers' market operation with 40 drip-irrigated acres of greenhouse and fields in the South Valley of Albuquerque," said Quinn. "They raise mixed vegetables, including greens, tomatoes and squash."

The fourth farm tour will be Sunday, Sept. 22, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Freshies farm in Lyden, near Alcalde.

"Christopher Bassett and Taylor Dale will guide us through their three acres of certified organic apples and peach orchard and mixed vegetable plots, with a bonus peek at their oyster mushroom operation," said Quinn.

"Control of fruit pests will be emphasized on this walk," said Grasswitz.

There is no charge for attending any of the tours, but participants are asked to pre-register via email to debosand@nmsu.edu or by calling Deborah Sandoval at 505-865-7340. Directions to each venue will be provided upon receipt of registration details.