The benefits of taking a hands on approach to pest management are being realised by one strawberry growing business in Essex.
Paul Roberts, co-founder and partner of Ashdown Nursery, established nearly 30 years ago, now grows approximately 160,000 strawberry plants in greenhouses covering 1.6 hectares.
All produce is marketed through Berry Gardens, a Kent based co-operative, whom Ashdown Nursery has been successfully working with for the last 15 years.
Paul explains how 30 years of growing hasn’t been without its challenges.
“This year, we’ve had to deal with a significant increase in the number of spider mite, thrips and whitefly.
“Over the years, I have used a combination of crop protection methods and tried and tested pesticides.
However, our armoury is limited and we’re realistic to the fact that we’re likely to lose more products in the future.
“As a result, we’ve tried to introduce bio-pesticides and biological controls in combination with an integrated, hands-on approach to identifying and tackling pests. In the spring, we can now produce up to 5.5kg of fruit per metre.
“This year in early April, we started to use Botanigard every 7 to 10 days to control the whitefly in particular, and incidentally this also had an effect on the spider mite. We applied it four times and the results got better and better.”
Not averse to trying new things, Paul uses a range of different monitoring techniques and treatments for control.
“We use a hand lance with a motorised sprayer to apply bio-pesticides manually, as there are a lot of places for pests to hide among the dense leaf cover on our strawberries. They don’t upset the atmosphere inside the greenhouse either, which is an added bonus.
“The whole team takes crop walking seriously and we use coloured tape for identifying different pests in different areas. This is our way of ensuring no infestations are missed during spraying, and the pests don’t have chance to take hold.