North Carolina Western Christmas Tree IPM Program, 2009 Friends of IPM Award Winner
Pulling Together

The North Carolina Christmas tree industry received several accolades for their environmental stewardship at the annual North Carolina Christmas Tree Association meeting last Friday. One of those included a regional award for excellence in integrated pest management, given to the Western NC Christmas Tree IPM Program.

The North Carolina State University-based team received a Friends of IPM “Pulling Together” award from the Southern Region IPM Center. The award recognized the team’s success in assisting Christmas tree growers implement pest management that is effective yet minimal in pesticide use.

In addition to the Friends of IPM Award, two awards given by the NC Christmas Tree Association recognized IPM successes; Christmas tree grower Larry Smith received the Environmental Stewardship Award, and Jeff Owen received the Educator of the Year Award.

The Christmas Tree IPM Program began in 1988, when Area Mountain Conifer Specialist Jill Sidebottom started work at the Mountain Area Agricultural Center in Fletcher, NC (now Mills River) to evaluate replacements of granular Di-Syston for twig aphid and spider mite control.

Fraser firs, popular Christmas trees in the US, play host to a plethora of insect pests and diseases. As Fraser fir production increased and became more profitable, growers used more insecticides and fungicides to prevent and control damage. North Carolina supplies 15 percent of the nation’s Christmas trees, with a wholesale value exceeding $120 million.

As use of pesticides increased, growers discovered that they had new problems: some of the chemicals caused soil erosion and poor tree health. Jeff Owen, Regional Christmas Tree Specialist, recalls visiting Christmas tree farms in the late 1980s and seeing two-inch metal posts in the soil. Growers used the posts to measure the depth of the soil when planting their trees; exposure of the posts meant exposure of the roots as well. As he began telling growers that the chemicals were causing the erosion, growers became more receptive to alternatives for pest management.

“The neat thing has been seeing the growers make incremental steps toward IPM,” said Owen.

The Christmas Tree IPM Program covers the entire western part of the state. Sidebottom specializes in pest control and scouting. Owen has been instrumental in deer IPM. John Frampton is evaluating Fraser resistance to pests and disease control. Kelly Ivors is evaluating mulching methods to reduce problems with Phytophthora root rot. Ron Gehl is evaluating the use of phosphorus and ground covers. And Doug Hundley and Bryan Davis conduct yearly on-farm demonstrations that continue to draw grower participation and interest.

Christmas tree growers are now one of the biggest proponents and role models for IPM use. A 2007 grower survey concluded that use of the pre-emergent herbicide Simizine has been reduced from 72 percent in 1995 to only 16.8 percent in 2007. Insecticide use has decreased nearly by half since 2006.

“This award is really for you,” Sidebottom said as she addressed growers at the annual Association meeting. “IPM is a success because you’re making it happen.”

The Friends of IPM “Pulling Together” Award recognizes a team from diverse specialties and backgrounds that work as a cohesive team to help growers use IPM successfully. Integrated pest management, or IPM, is the use of a combination of pest management practices to reduce pest problems. The Southern Region IPM Center is one of four regional integrated pest management centers funded by USDA to support IPM efforts in the United States.

“I usually stand up here and preach about IPM,” said Jim VanKirk, director of the Southern Region IPM Center, addressing growers. “But I don’t need to preach to you. You already know the benefits of IPM.”