Sonoma County Bounty - Farm Business Incubator
University of California
Sonoma County Bounty - Farm Business Incubator


USDA to Include Animal Welfare in Organic Labeling

This is a re-post of a Meeting Place article. Important for those of you looking at organic meat production.

"USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) on Thursday proposed amending organic livestock and poultry production requirements to include specific guidance on animal welfare.

The changes, based on recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board, aim to ensure consistency in animal handling and maintain consumer confidence in organically labeled products, AMS said.

Provisions of the proposed rule include:

  • Clarifying how producers and handlers must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their health and wellbeing throughout life, including transport and slaughter.
  • Specifying which physical alterations are allowed and prohibited in organic livestock and poultry production.
  • Establishing minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements for poultry.

“This proposal sets clear standards for organic animals, providing clarity to organic operations and certifying agents, and establishing a level playing field for all producers,” AMS Administrator Elanor Starmer said in a statement.  

The proposed rule will be published soon in the Federal Register and is available to view here."

Posted on Thursday, April 7, 2016 at 1:06 PM

Insurance for sheep producers

The following is reprinted from ASI. For the first time some risk management tools are available to sheep producers. Now if predation losses were covered . . .

U.S. Sheep Industry Offers Own Insurance to Producers

Whether it's thru futures or crop insurance, risk management is a very important tool that helps farmers and ranchers guard against natural disasters, low prices and predators, which have the potential to wreck financial havoc on an operation. And for the longest time, the U.S. sheep industry was excluded from risk management tools like these; that is until now.

The Northern Ag Network's Russell Nemetz shares more of the details during the following interview available on ASI's YouTube channel at

Posted on Wednesday, March 30, 2016 at 4:22 PM
Tags: Insurance (1), Predators (1), Sheep (10), Sheep Meat and Wool (1)

Lygus bug management during and at the end of the strawberry production

Lygus bug (Lygus hesperus) adult (above) and young nymph (below).  (Photos by Rodney Cooper, USDA-ARS and Surendra Dara)

Lygus bug or the western tarnished plant bug, Lygus hesperus is a major pest of strawberries in California (Zalom et al. 2014).  Lygus bug has a wide host range that includes more than 100 species of cultivated crops and wild host plants (Scott, 1977; Fye, 1980 and 1982; Mueller et al., 2005) that include cultivated crops such as alfalfa, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, grapes, strawberries, and tomatoes on the California Central Coast.  Additionally, ornamental and vegetable crops in greenhouses or home gardens along with weedy hosts from Chenopodiacae, Compositae, and Cruciferae in vast uncultivated landscapes offer a continuous food supply for lygus bug throughout the year.  Warmer and dryer conditions as experienced in the recent years can also contribute to increased lygus bug problems.  Milder winters fail to bring down overwintering populations and drought conditions dry out wild hosts early in spring forcing lygus bugs to migrate to cultivated crops.  Under these circumstances, timely monitoring and implementation of appropriate management practices is necessary to limit damage and spread of lygus bugs to other crops.  Vegetable crops such as celery are reported to have an increased risk of lygus bug damage in recent years (Dara, 2015a).


Lygus bugs primarily feed on inflorescence and developing seeds.  They can also feed on foliage by sucking plant sap, but seeds which are rich in protein and lipids are important for the reproductive success of lygus bugs.  Depending on the crop and crop stage, lygus damage can result in bud and flower loss, blemishes on seeds, necrotic spots on stems, or deformity of the fruit.  In strawberries, fruit deformity caused by lygus bug renders fresh berries unmarketable.  However, nearly 1/3 of the fruit deformity in strawberries is caused by factors other than lygus bug (Dara, 2015b). 

Strawberry fruit deformity likely from lygus bug feeding (Photo by Surendra Dara)


Lygus bugs typically move into strawberry or other cultivated crops from weedy hosts in the wild habitats in April.  However, seasonal weather conditions can alter these typical patterns.  In a typical fall planting of strawberries, three generations of lygus bugs can be seen.  But summer-plantings, extended season for fall-plantings, or early planting of fall strawberries make the crop available almost throughout the year.  Improper management of lygus or any pest can lead to increased problems in crops where the pest is not usually a problem.

While UC IPM guidelines provide details of lygus bug management in strawberries and celery, here are some important points for managing lygus bug in strawberries during and at the end of the fruit production season:

Biological control:

  • Several species of predatory and parasitic arthropods provide natural control of lygus bug.  Big-eyed bug (Geocoris spp.), damsel bug (Nabis spp.), minute pirate bug (Orius tristicolor), and multiple species of spiders are among the predacious arthropods.  Parasitic wasps that attach eggs (Anaphes iole) and nymphs (Peristenus relictus) are commonly found in strawberries.  Conserving natural enemies by providing flowering hosts as refuges and selecting chemicals that are less harmful can contribute to biological control.

Cultural control:

  • Manage weeds near and around strawberry fields that serve as sources of lygus bug infestations.
  • Some studies suggest growing strips of alfalfa or flowering hosts that attract lygus bugs and managing them with pesticides or vacuuming.  This practice requires close monitoring to prevent dispersal of lygus bugs to strawberries.

Chemical control and biopesticides:

  • A variety of chemicals that belong to different mode of action groups are registered for lygus bug in strawberries.  Select appropriate label rates to obtain desired control.  Using surfactants and proper application techniques can improve control efficacy.
  • Rotate chemicals from different mode of action groups to reduce the risk of resistance development.
  • Use appropriate materials for appropriate life stages of the pest.  For example, an insect growth regulator like novaluron (Rimon) is effective against nymphal stages.  To control a mixed population of nymphs and adults, novaluron can be used with other insecticides.  Botanical insect growth regulator like azadirachtin (e.g., AzaGuard, Debug Turbo, Molt-X, and Neemix), which also has insecticidal properties, can be used with chemical pesticides.  Microbial pesticides based on insect pathogenic fungi such as Beauveria bassiana (BotaniGard), Isaria fumosorosea (Pfr-97), and Metarhizium brunneum (Met52) in combination with azadirachtin or chemical pesticides can also be used as a part of the lygus IPM program.

Mechanical control:

  • Bug vacuums can help remove lygus bugs from strawberry plants.  They are typically run twice a week at a speed of 2 mph.  Improved design and increased number of passes each time can enhance the control efficacy.  Vacuums may not be effective in removing all life stages of lygus bugs and may also remove beneficial arthropods.

Control specific to end of the season:

  • Do not neglect managing lygus until the end of the fruit production.  Negligence can lead to the spread of the pest to neighboring fields requiring aggressive management practices.  Such a situation that demands additional pesticide applications can lead to insecticide resistance in the long run.
  • Some growers indicated that sulfuric acid applied as soil amendment at the end of the season helped in controlling lygus bugs.  This practice is, however, not recommended for lygus management.

IPM strategies:

Several IPM studies in the Santa Maria area with a focus on lygus bug management provide information on effective chemical and non-chemical options. 



Dara, S. K.  2015a.  Increasing risk of lygus bug damage to celery on the Central Coast.  (

Dara, S. K.  2015b. Role of lygus bug and other factors in strawberry fruit deformity. (

Fye, R. E.  1980.  Weed sources of lygus bugs in the Yakima Valley and Columbia Basin in Washington.  J. Econ. Entomol. 73: 469-473.

Fye, R. E.  1982.  Weed hosts of the lygus (Heteroptera: Miridae) bug complex in Central Washington.  J. Econ. Entomol. 75: 724-727.

Mueller, S. C., C. G. Summers, and P. B. Goodell.  2005.  Composition of Lygus species found in selected agronomic crops and weeds in the San Joaquin Valley, California.  Southwest. Entomlo. 30: 121-127.

Scott, D. R.  1977. An annotated list of host plants for L. hesperus Knight.  Bulletin of the Entomological Society of America 23: 19-22.

Zalom, F. G., M. P. Bolda, S.K. Dara, and S. Joseph., 2014.  UC IPM pest management guidelines: strawberry.  University of Californi a Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program.  Oakland:  UC ANR Publication 3468.


Posted on Friday, February 19, 2016 at 10:38 AM

Producing with the seal of IPM is a practical and sustainable strategy for agriculture

Seal of IPM - a practical and sustainable crop production system

Arthropod pests or diseases cause a variety of damages to crops.  Some by reducing plant vigor resulting in lesser yields and some by causing direct damage to the produce which can be unmarketable due to deformity, unpleasant taste, damaged tissue due to insect feeding, presence of insects and/or frass, decay due to secondary infections, and other factors.  It is quite understandable when the produce is not accepted because of the taste or potential health risk.  For example, citrus fruit with huanglongbing or citrus greening disease transmitted by Asian citrus psyllid gives a bitter taste to citrus juice.  Navel orangeworm larvae bore into almonds and feed on the nut causing complete or partial damage and leave frass and cause fungal infections.  Brown marmorated stink bug damage on fruits and vegetables change the texture and taste of the damaged area.  Such damage certainly makes the produce unmarketable and applying pesticides or administering other control measures to prevent the damage is warranted. 

Brown marmorated stink bug damage to apple (above - Photo by Chris Bergh, Virginia Tech) and navel orangeworm damage to almond (below - Photo by Jack Kelly Clark, UC IPM)

On the other hand, certain damage is only cosmetic with no reported change in taste or quality of the produce.  One example would be fruit deformity caused by the lygus bug in strawberries.  Strawberry is a high value fruit appreciated for its taste, shape, color, and flavor.  Lygus bug feeding on young green berries results in uneven growth and deformity of mature berries.  While there is no record of the impact of lygus damage on strawberry fruit quality, millions of pounds of pesticides are applied to control lygus bug or similar pests that cause cosmetic damage in strawberries and other crops.

Cosmetic damage to strawberry by lygus bug (Photo by Surendra Dara)

The preference of consumers for perfectly shaped fruits and vegetables creates a need for intensive pest management practices and results in associated financial and environmental costs.  Since chemical pesticides are generally economical and effective tools to manage pests, they are widely used.  The overuse of certain effective pesticides causes development of resistance in pest populations. This, in turn, leads to increased use of the same or other pesticides.  Excessive use of chemical pesticides can have a harmful effect on beneficial arthropods resulting in secondary pest outbreaks.  Organic agriculture is gaining popularity due to environmental and human health concerns from chemical pesticide use.    “Organic agriculture produces products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics” according to USDA.  But organic agriculture is not necessarily the only sustainable solution.

Before agricultural industrialization, there was a better balance between pests and their natural enemies (beneficial arthropods such as predators and parasitoids that attack pests).  Once agriculture was industrialized, thousands of acres of monoculture now provide an unlimited supply of food for a variety of pests.  When the natural balance is disrupted, natural enemies alone are not sufficient to manage pest populations.  This is where an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy plays an important role in bringing a sense of balance into pest management.  IPM employs multiple tools that include selecting resistant varieties, modifying planting dates, changing irrigation and nutrient management practices, conserving or releasing natural enemies, applying chemical, botanical, and microbial pesticides, or using mechanical tools.  Each of these tools contribute to reducing pest numbers, complement each other, and result in pest management in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Organic agriculture, on the other hand, relies on biopesticides instead of chemical pesticides, which can sometimes be less effective or slow in achieving desired control.  For example, an effective chemical pesticide with a specific mode of action could kill pest populations within a few hours of application.  However, using a biopesticide based on an insect-pathogenic microorganism like the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis or the fungus Beauveria bassiana, can take a few days to allow the microorganism to infect and kill the pest.  When pest numbers are low, non-chemical solutions may provide required control to minimize damage. However, with heavy pest infestations, chemical pesticides are often needed to provide timely control that prevents further buildup of pest populations and the resulting damage to crops.

Organic agriculture is expensive because of generally higher losses due to pests and higher cost of agronomic and pest management practices.  Sometimes, ineffective control of pests on organic farms may result in their spread to neighboring fields and increase the risk of pest damage.  Organic agriculture does not mean pesticide-free farming, and biopesticides used on organic farms also require safety guidelines similar to chemical pesticides used on conventional farms.  Organic agriculture may require a higher number of pesticide sprays increasing the risk of exposure for workers.  In some pest and disease situations in certain crops, organically registered products are not available and yield losses could be higher.  Exporting organic produce, in light of exotic and invasive pests spreading to other areas, is also a challenge due to limited options for shipping organically produced pest-free fruits and vegetables.

Using cultural practices to reduce the risk of pest infestations and applying biopesticides when pest populations are low and chemical pesticides when populations are high can be components of an IPM strategy where multiple tools are exploited in a balanced manner.  Combining and rotating chemical pesticides with non-chemical alternatives strengthens the effectiveness of IPM by providing desired control without the excessive use of chemicals.  Chemical pesticides can be used during early stages of the crop growth while biopesticides can be used closer to harvest.

Considering the challenges and risks associated with organic agriculture and the practicality of IPM-based agriculture, a couple of ideas could be worth pursuing to maintain environmental and human health, reduce harmful chemicals, and ensure food security for the growing world population.

Acceptance of imperfect produce: When consumers are tolerant of imperfectly shaped fruits and vegetables with no health risk from pathogens or arthropod pests, a significant amount of pesticides of all kinds could be avoided.  This would translate into saving millions of dollars otherwise spent on pesticides and their application costs, and money earned on selling otherwise unmarketable produce.  This may also reduce the disposal of unpicked produce at the grocery stores.  When consumers accept imperfect fruits or vegetables, the cost of produce, both to produce and purchase, could come down.  I recently came across Imperfect Produce, a company that sells imperfect produce and End Food Waste, an organization that started the Ugly Fruit And Veg Campaign.

IPM: Considering the difficulty in ensuring food security exclusively through non-chemical agriculture for the growing world population (projected to be 9.6 billion by 2050), IPM is an effective, practical, and sustainable tool that uses a balanced approach. While organic agriculture is encouraged and supported, and there are several organizations that certify organic production around the world, IPM hasn't caught the attention of marketers yet. Perhaps a seal of IPM should be considered and promoted in the near future.

Organic certification agencies from around the world.  Source

Opinions expressed in this article are my own and based on my experience in IPM, microbial control, biological control, and from discussions with several growers and scientists.




Posted on Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 11:51 AM

An update on the zoophytophagous tomato bug 

Tomato bug on a tomato plant.  Photo by Surendra Dara

The bug that is commonly referred to as the tomato bug might have been around for a while, but it was in the spring of 2014 that a homeowner in Goleta (Santa Barbara County) reported infestations and damage to tomatoes in their home garden for the first time.  In August, 2015, an organic vegetable grower in the Lompoc area had severe tomato bug infestations in tomatoes and zucchini.  In a tomato field intercropped with zucchini bugs were found on both hosts, but more on the younger zucchini plants which have developing flowers and fruits compared to mature tomato plants.  This incidence suggests the potential of tomato becoming an important pest of vegetables in commercial fields and home gardens.  In September, 2015, tomatoes and yellow squash plants at the University of California Davis vegetable garden also had moderate tomato bug infestations.  Younger tomato plants in the Davis garden had more tomato bugs than the squash plants next to them.

More tomato bugs were seen on younger zucchini than on older tomato plants (above) while more bugs were seen on younger tomato than on older yellow squash plants (below)  Photos by Surendra Dara

It appears that tomato bugs can infest multiple hosts other than tomatoes and probably have a preference for plants with actively growing flowers and fruits. 

Tomato bugs on zucchini flowers.  Feeding damage appears as depressed spots on the fruit.

A field study planned for managing tomato bugs on organic tomatoes and zucchini with several botanical and microbial pesticides could not be executed, but the grower reported effective control with Pyganic+OroBoost and Pyganic+DebugTurbo+OroBosst when they tried some products on their new zucchini plantings under hoop houses.  Other treatments that included Entrust, Trilogy, Pyganic, and DebugTurbo did not appear to suppress tomato bug populations.  This input from the grower can be useful until scientifically conducted field study results are available in the future.

It is not clear if tomato bug is emerging as a new vegetable pest in California or the warm and dry conditions in recent years are contributing to the secondary pest outbreaks.  Considering significant yield losses caused due to organic zucchini in the Lompoc area, it is important for growers and PCAs to know about the pest so that tomato bug can be added to their monitoring program.

Information on tomato bug origin, biology, and damage can be found at:

Identity crisis

There is some discrepancy about the identity of what is commonly referred to as the tomato bug.  Entomological Society of America listed Engytatus modestus (Distant) as the tomato bug and it is referred to as such and considered as a biocontrol agent in some literature (Parrella et al., 1982).  However, Nesidiocoris tenuis (Reuter) is referred to as the tomato bugn in other reports where it is considered as a pest (El-Dessouki et al., 1976, Santa Ana, 2015). 

N. tenuis is generally considered a beneficial insect and Arnó et al. (2006) characterized the damage to tomato plants.  This insect is considered as a potential predator for controlling the tomato borer, Tuta absoluta (Meyrick), which has emerged as a serious pest in Spain and other European countries (Urbaneja et al., 2008).  Another study in Spain reported N. tenuis both as a predator and a pest (Calvo et al., 2009).  As a predator, tomato bug caused a significant reduction in sweetpotato whitefly, Bemisia tabaci Gennadius, populations under greenhouse conditions, but also caused necrotic rings on the petioles of leaves.

Regardless of the taxonomic status, tomato bug can both be a predator of several arthropod pests and a pest of tomatoes, yellow squash, and zucchini.  Since it can feed on insects and plants, it is considered zoophytophagous.

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Arno´ J, C. Castañé, J. Riudavets, J. Roig, and R. Gabarra.  2006. Characterization of damage to tomato plants produced by the zoophytophagous predator Nesidiocoris tenuis. IOBC/ WPRS Bull 29:249–254

El-Dessouki, S. A., A. H. El-Kifl, and H. A. Helal.  1976.  Life cycle, host plants and symptoms of damage of the tomato bug, Nesidiocoris tenuis Reut. (Hemiptera: Miridae), in Egypt. Zeitschrift fur Pflanzenkrankheiten und Pflanzenschutz 83: 204-220.

Parrella, M. P., K. L. Robb, G. D. Christie, and J. A. Bethke.  1982.  Control of Liriomyza trifolii with biological agents and insect growth regulators.  California Ag. 36: 17-19.

Santa Ana, R.  2015.  Humans may be culprit in latest South Texas invasive insect problems.  AgriLife Today, 14 September, 2015. (

Urbaneja, A., H. Montón, and O. Mollá.  2008.  Suitability of the tomato borer Tuta absoluta as prey for Macrolophus pygmaeus and Nesidiocoris tenuis.  J. Appl. Entomol. 4: 292-296.



Posted on Wednesday, December 9, 2015 at 5:51 PM

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