October 4, 2010

Organic Pest Control- No Mean Feat

With all the hoopla surrounding the Green Movement, there is an increased awareness of what we eat and how it was grown. The idea of organically grown produce and meats is increasingly attractive, but increasingly expensive. One of the cost-benefit challenges in growing food is the increased yield of food plants when pests are controlled. Synthetic chemistry is very cost effective, yet concerns persist about such synthetic chemistry regarding its persistence in the food chain. 

Organic pest control can be very safe and very effective in the short term, but can also often be very time consuming to implement the controls. Many organic pest controls are short-lived and require a really thorough coverage of the plant. The extra labor involved results in  pesticide-free but more expensive produce. Many agribusiness and produce brokerage firms outsource growing to and import produce from countries which have less stringent regulations on chemical pesticides. Consumers want inexpensive but pesticide-free produce, which is difficult in almost any venue of agribusiness.We see an increasing amount of advertising for "organic" produce. The word itself has multiple meanings and means different things to different people.

In local or home gardens, using soap or soap-oil sprays can be very effective if you have the time to spray the bugs and fungi every week. Ground cinnamon makes an excellent fungicide, but lasts only a few days on the plant. Pool-filter powder makes an excellent snail-killer on the soil, but lasts as long as the next rainstorm which will wash it away. Kitchen baking  soda+horticultural oil makes an great fungicide for roses, but won't persist on the plant very long.These controls are organic, but time-consuming and consequently labor-expensive. Many of these recipes are on-line, but read the instructions very carefully. It is always wise to test a new pesticide recipe on a small area of a plant to trial the recipe's effectiveness and safety.

"Organic" may mean something quite different in a 3rd world country than it does here. There is then the question of "certified organic" and "locally grown" produce. The terms are sometimes misleading since there are few clear definitions. There are indeed definitions about certified organic produce in the USA, ( such as OMRI and USDA Organic)) perhaps in other countries too. One thing seems clear enough:  buying locally grown organic produce usually gets you produce that tastes fresher and better than produce shipped in from a country thousands of miles away.  

There are potent arguments for both sides of the cost-to-benefit balance of more-expensive organically grown produce versus cost-effective produce with modern agribuisiness chemistry and fertilizers.

The big question remains: are you willing to pay the extra price for organic produce that looks different than the polished, groomed and neatly packaged produce ?        

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