Enhancing natural resources through farming
Farming can place significant demands on natural resources, but many farmers employ practices that mitigate the impact of growing crops and often contribute to resource conservation and enhancement. Elly Vaughan, owner of the Phoenix Fruit Farm in Belchertown, uses ecologically sustainable practices to grow apples and peaches. These practices help conserve water and preserve the quality of the topsoil and the water.
Elly, who earned a degree in Plant and Soil Science from UMass Amherst, cites unique challenges to growing apples and other tree fruit organically. “You can’t move the trees like you would rotate crops on a vegetable farm,” she says. “Disease populations build up and build up.” She uses advanced Integrated Pest Management (IPM) principles on her farm, monitoring the insect population using sticky traps, and tracking the temperature and weather so she can use the least harmful, targeted insecticide only when necessary. Because herbicide is not used, ground cover grows under the fruit trees, creating a habitat for beneficial insects that can compete with the pest species.
Three state grant programs have contributed to Phoenix Fruit Farm’s ecologic and economic sustainability. The Stewardship Assistance and Restoration on Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APRs) program provided funding to clear and replant formerly productive land that had become overgrown. Elly plans to clear six acres of land this spring and plant it with a cover crop that will help to sequester water and carbon in the soil.
An Agricultural Environmental Enhancement Program grant will enable the farm to install a drip irrigation system to water the new peach, nectarine, and pear trees Elly plans to plant this year. New fruit trees require regular irrigation to become established. Though overhead irrigation is less expensive, drip-tape irrigation saves water by directing it to the tree roots.
“It is very responsible of the state to put these programs out” to help farms like hers, Elly says. “Without the financial resources, farmers would be forced to use practices that are not as efficient because they can’t afford the best practices. They are taking away the financial burden.”