“It took me the longest time to understand color in a field – the color of green,” says Steve Pavich, senior plant nutritionist with BioFlora and a longtime organic grower. “What does the color mean? Is lime green in a grape leaf the kind of green I want, or do I want a blue-green color? Color is a big indicator of what is happening with your plants and in your fields. If a field is off color wise, you can catch it early enough to respond to the problems. Old-timers know about color.”
Pavich has a lot of respect for growers who have learned about farming from the ground up. He calls them the true innovators, while at the same time acknowledging successful organic farming today also depends on a variety of factors: technology, biological inputs, pheromones, advanced composting, cultural practices, the right seeds, water efficiency—the list goes on and on. Pavich says, “In organic agriculture there is no silver bullet. It requires a program.”
Moderator Gwendolyn Wyard, OTA and Steve Pavich, BioFlora discussed organic plant health at OGS
At the recent Organic Grower Summit in Monterey, CA, Pavich joined Dr. Danielle Kirkpatrick, global technical support coordinator with Trécé, Inc., and Pete Anecito, director of operations at Mission Ranches, for a wide-ranging panel discussion on organic plant health, moderated by Gwendolyn Wyard, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs with the Organic Trade Association. The panelists agree plant health is tied to soil health and achieving both in organic fields requires that mix of old and new.
Anecito says part of his job is communicating with his growers about new ideas. “When it comes to new products, new technologies, new cultural practices, sometimes ranch mangers are leery. They fall back on what they are used to and what has given them results in the past, but it’s our duty and obligation to engage in new stuff that can drive the industry forward,” he said.
Pete Anecito of Mission Ranches joined the discussion about organic plant health and farming techniques
Of course, ferreting out what works and what doesn’t is the challenge. Pavich said, “When I was farming organically, I had four thousand acres in two states. I had at least 10 to 15 ‘science projects’ going on in the fields every year, testing out new products. If it didn’t show me something, I moved on. You need to be hands on. You have to be engaged in your operation enough to see the difference between one product or another. Farming is always evolving, and we need to be open to new things. There is a level of sophistication today that we just didn’t see 25 years ago. For example, pheromones were nothing like they are today.”
On that subject, Dr. Kirkpatrick outlined three product lines produced by her company that allow growers to use a natural occurring chemical to manipulate how pests and insects mate and behave. The Trécé product catalogue includes more than 100 species-specific, pheromone-based kits, attractants and lures, as well as traps designed for a variety of flying and crawling insects—speaking to that level of sophistication mentioned by Pavich and Anecito.
Attendees at OGS joined the conversation around innovation potential for organic farming
Pavich urged the growers in the audience to make the rounds on the OGS exhibition floor to “see all the innovations happening in the industry.” Always an integral part of the summit, the exhibition attracted almost a hundred of the most innovative companies in the business, offering a glimpse into the future of farming. “There is a level of sophistication that is exciting and a lot of crossover to the sustainable side,” says Pavich. “We’ve been doing it for a long time before all this new technology, so it’s only going to get better. I’m anxious to see what technology brings. On the farm we have people calling with new products on a daily basis. This (exhibition) is a great opportunity to talk to the innovators and see these products in one place.”
Of course, it has to work in the field and make economic sense. Anecito puts it simply, “All the technology, clipboards, and data reports are crucial and very important to the industry, but once you get out into the field, we are back to the color of green. The plants will tell you the story if you are watching and paying attention.”