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Brothers Compete in Almond-Growing Test

October 16, 1988|Associated Press

HILMAR, Calif. — They're brothers, and their almond trees are separated only by a county road, but Glenn and Ron Anderson are miles apart in the way they operate their orchards.

Ron Anderson is a conventional grower, applying sprays and fertilizers on his 90-acre ranch along Crane Road near Hilmar in northern Merced County.

Glenn Anderson grows his 20 acres of almonds on the other side of Crane Road organically, eschewing most sprays and commercial fertilizers.

The opportunity to study organic and conventional almond orchards across the road from each other run by two members of the same family has not been lost on researchers.

Lonnie Hendricks, a University of California farm adviser in Merced County, helped the brothers obtain a $3,800 grant from UC Davis to measure the numbers of potentially damaging pests in each orchard. The numbers of beneficial insects and mites and the soil conditions of the brothers' orchards also will be studied.

Alan Saca, a Cal State Fresno agribusiness major, is monitoring baited insect traps and doing insect sweeps to record changes in their population each week and find out what kinds of bugs are in the orchards.

Hendricks noted that only eight organic almond orchards are registered with the California Certified Organic Farmers Assn., meaning not much data is available.

"So, we're kind of writing the book as we go--flying blind," said Glenn Anderson, the organic grower.

Uses a Weed-Killer

Actually, his orchard is not yet registered officially as organic because he uses the weed killer Roundup so a mechanical harvester can blow the fallen nuts into windrows. But he intends to quit using weed killer so his crop can be certified as organic.

Glenn Anderson admits he sprayed 16 acres with a fungicide after rain hit during the bloom period in 1987, but he found almost no difference between those almonds and the nuts from four acres left untreated as a control.

Glenn Anderson says he began opposing the use of pesticides when he saw them abused while working on an agricultural project in American Samoa after college.

He fears that pesticides might be absorbed into the meat of the nut and feels farmers generally need "to work with nature instead of against it."

But Ron Anderson says most sprays in use today are biodegradable.

"I don't believe they pollute," he said in an interview. "They break down and become inactive. Some actually break down into phosphates and become plant food."

Ron Anderson usually begins spraying in January with a dormant spray of mixed oil, copper and insecticide and continues with fungicides in February and pesticides in May and July. He applies commercial fertilizer in the fall after harvest.

He says insect samples indicate that his May spraying caused pest populations in his orchard to level off better than in Glenn Anderson's orchard, which wasn't sprayed. In addition, a leaf analysis showed signs of zinc deficiency in Glenn's orchard, which could result in reduced yields in 1989.

Ron Anderson has attended organic farming conferences with his brother but says he won't be convinced that the method is economical until there is evidence that yields approach those of conventional farming.

Glenn Anderson says he can make a profit with a lower yield because he isn't spending much on chemicals and equipment to spray them, but he hopes to begin approaching the county average of 1,760 pounds per acre soon.

Hendricks thinks almonds may be a good crop for organic farming because their shells offer some natural protection from pests. But the farm adviser generally favors integrated pest management in which biological and cultural controls are used as much as possible, which he says leads to reduced spraying.

Glenn Anderson thinks pesticides create a vicious circle by killing off the habitat that supports predator insects, which can reduce the populations of harmful bugs without using chemicals. His brother says sprays he uses are designed to spare beneficial bugs.

To encourage beneficial insects, Glenn Anderson lets his cover crop of vetch, native grasses, wild oats and some weeds grow tall in the spring.

"It's called preserving a 'polyculture'--an environment with many plant species," he said. "Most farming is based on the creation of a monoculture--one plant type. But that upsets the balance of nature and kills habitat conducive for beneficial insects.

"Nature will work if we listen to her."

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