PCAs must have contingency plans

A pest control program is similar to an insurance policy because both offer several options and upgrades to the buyer.

You can choose a pest control advisor who operates solely on sales commissions and tries to sell you and your company expensive coverage, or you can opt for a more conservative plan and hire your own “in-house” PCA. As with all other business decisions, the choice is based on personal preference in meeting the ultimate objective.

As in-house PCAs, our goal is to produce the highest possible yield and quality in vegetables at the least cost per acre. In accomplishing that, we keep a close eye on chemical rates and price.

Lettuce aphid

Recently, the lettuce aphid surfaced as a pest control problem in Monterey County. It is very difficult to control because it hides deep in the lettuce heart and reproduces rapidly in warm temperatures. The key to eliminating the aphid is early detection followed up by effective materials.

Not only do we face constant pressure from regulatory agencies, we also deal with marketing and public relations demands. Quality lettuce is harvested and packaged in a transparent bag, labeled with the packer's logo, to draw the consumer's eye, so the product has to be absolutely free of pests and disease. If aphids happen to be found in the lettuce, the product can be traced back to the field where it was grown.

PCAs must always have one or more contingency plans in case the initial plan fails, and as a last resort, we take a course of “whatever it takes to keep the field clean.” A new pest or developed resistance in an existing pest can overwhelm a traditional control practice at any time.

In the 12 years I've been with the company, every season has been different, and we never know what to expect the next year. Another possibility is chemicals becoming unavailable, so we always have trials going to keep up with what might happen.

At times we use the “whatever it takes” approach to keep fields clean of weeds, and one example is our herbicide program in broccoli. When Dacthal was taken off the market, the only alternative was Prefar and its odor was objectionable. From our trials we learned that Treflan, a product that's been around a long time, worked just as well or better than Dacthal or Prefar.

I showed the results to Richard Smith, Monterey County farm advisor, who also saw the potential. Since Treflan was not labeled for broccoli, he applied for a Section 24c registration for that use, which was granted.

So we have been using Treflan, in combination with a soil conditioner, Terra Treat, on most of our direct-seeded broccoli fields. Within 24 hours, we incorporate it with about three inches of water through sprinklers to a depth of 1/8 to 1/4-inch. We spray the herbicide and spreader in a four-inch band over the seed line or about 30 percent of the treated acreage. The rest of the soil is cultivated for weed control.

Far less costly

Treflan, when used at the proper rates, costs less than $2 per acre, compared to the other herbicides costing $25 to $40 per treated acre.

We also tank-mix Treflan with Pounce EC to control cabbage maggots and cutworms. Use of Pounce EC at planting is a savings in itself. Lorsban at planting has been the industry standard for many years for control of cabbage maggots, cutworms, and springtails. We ran more trials and found that we could use four ounces of Pounce EC instead of 10 pounds of Lorsban per acre, with the same results, at one-third the cost.

Another plus with spraying for the insects at planting is the reduced pesticide exposure to equipment operators. The operator can make one load of seed for about 10 acres or about a half-day's time.

He may stop to check the planter from time to time, but he doesn't have the repeated exposure of stopping to load boxes of Lorsban dust. With this practice we saw a 98 percent reduction in the amount of pesticides, by weight, from our previous practice.

The key to being successful in this business is to be innovative. You have to stay on top of all the minor details and always be looking for an alternative.

Ed Mora has been a pest control advisor for D'Arrigo Brothers Co. of California since 1989. Based in Salinas, he supervises two other PCAs in covering the company's 16,000 acres in Monterey County.

The acreage, which has doubled since he came to the company, is about half lettuce, both head and leaf, and half other vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, rappini, cactus and sweet fennel.

A large part of Mora's assignment is conducting the company's continuing field trials to remain alert to solutions for ever-changing problems in pest control.

He has been a member of the California Association of Pest Control Advisors since 1983 and held several offices in the association's Monterey Bay Area Chapter.

He earned a bachelor of science degree in crop science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 1982. The following year he first received his PCA license. He worked for a farming operation in Bakersfield for about six years before coming to D'Arrigo Brothers. He resides in Salinas with his wife and their two sons.

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