Apples are a high value crop in Massachusetts and in the entire Northeastern United States, with an annual farm-gate value of $11.6 million and $550 million, respectively, in 2008. Nearly 100,000 acres are devoted to apples in the Northeast, with 4,000 of those in Massachusetts. Apples in the Northeast are attacked by dozens of pests, both arthropods and diseases, and, as a result, apple production is one of the crops listed in the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list - a list of the fruits and vegetables that on average use the most pesticides in their production. At the same time there is a long and productive history of apple Integrated Pest Management (IPM) research and implementation in Massachusetts built around strong collaboration with other scientists and growers throughout the Northeast region. In spite of IPM-based pesticide reductions in the 1980's and 90's, there is evidence that pesticide use on apples in the region has not decreased significantly in recent years, and may be increasing. This trend is the result of several factors, including regulation of older pesticides, resistance to pesticides, increased global competition, and increased labor costs associated with some IPM tactics. In addition, newer pesticides are more expensive and require more sophisticated, precise application patterns because they often have narrower spectrums of activity and different modes of activity.
Increasingly, consumers are demanding local food produced sustainably. Massachusetts is one of the leaders nationally in direct market sales from farms. Part of the mix of crops that draw consumers to farm markets and pick-your-own operations is apples. The University of Massachusetts has been a leader in developing eco-marketing approaches for apples, most recently working with the private non-profit wholesaler Red Tomato, Inc. of Canton, Massachusetts. Though innovative technology does not always seem to mesh with the popular conception of local and sustainable agriculture, the future of local agriculture may be a grower with smart phone access to pest management and marketing information using environmentally-benign IPM tactics developed using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and genetic manipulation. By continuing to innovate advanced disease management tactics for apple production, and linking those innovations to eco-marketing and certification efforts, the University of Massachusetts contributes to improved sustainability of agricultural production both locally and nationally. Some tactics, such as region-wide weather monitoring and pest forecasting, can easily be transferred to other crops and integrated with national pest management efforts.
This project directly addresses U.S.D.A.'s national goal of Food Safety, and tangentially impacts that of Global Food Security. The goals of this project are to supply apple growers with new tools that will enable them to continue towards a goal of sustainability while providing local consumers with a safe and healthful supply of fruit. As such, it will research new methods, educate growers, and engage consumers and wholesalers in IPM.