Small farms face a different set of challenges than larger farm operations. For example, large-scale research and extension may not translate well to small farms. Small-scale farmers often have other off-farm jobs and they are not always familiar with Cooperative Extension. English may not be a small-scale farmer’s native language.
Area IPM Advisor Cheryl Wilen partnered with IPM scientists in five other states as part of the western small-farm IPM working group—Tessa Grasswitz and Edmund Gomez of New Mexico State University; Diane Alston and Dan Drost, Utah State University; Doug Walsh and Marcy Ostrom, Washington State University; Ed Bechinski and Cindy Williams, University of Idaho; and Gwendolyn Ellen, Oregon State University. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the workgroup formed in 2010, with the goal to better serve small-scale growers and understand their needs.
Wilen and UCCE Small Farms Advisor Ramiro Lobo focused on pitahaya or dragon fruit farming and outreach in southern California. "Dragon fruit was selected as the model crop in California because most growers are small-scale, and Lobo was able to organize an enthusiastic cadre of growers willing to adopt novel methods for pest management and share their results with other growers," comments Wilen.
Wilen and other researchers on the project observed small-scale farmers creating innovative pest solutions for a number of crops. Dragon fruit farmers cover fruit with paint-filter bags to protect fruit from bird feeding. In New Mexico hoop houses, a water container with a hole in the bottom placed over the entrance of a stinging harvester ant nest slowly leaked water into the nest, and caused the ants to move out after three weeks.
Working on small-farm pilot projects, researchers also identified several exotic pests. In California, Cactus virus X was confirmed on some dragon fruit plants. Several new plant diseases and host associations were found in Utah. New invasive pests were found in New Mexico on other crops.
The workgroup suggests that the close proximity of many small farms to urban areas and highways, plus the kinds of crops grown (different varieties and often nontraditional crops), make small farms especially suited as sites to detect invasive pests.
The working group identified specific actions that could increase IPM adoption on small farms.
Workgroup members gained knowledge of innovative pest management practices to share with other small-scale farmers. Members also documented new exotic pests for their state; early detection could prevent some of the harm from exotic pests, saving growers time and money.
The west now has a network of small farm experts who better understand the needs of small-scale farmers. This increase in knowledge will enable Cooperative Extension to better serve this clientele.