Colchester grower recognized for pest management prowess

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 4:30 PM EST
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - A battle of the bugs is playing out inside the greenhouses of a Colchester farm. As Kevin Gaiss reports, it’s a controlled battle the owners of Claussen’s Greenhouse and Perrennial Farm have been waging with beneficial insects in an effort to replace dangerous pesticides.

The rows of greens inside Claussen’s greenhouse would be a buffet for bugs looking to snack. But in the place of chemicals to manage those pests, Lori King and her team are protecting the crop their own way. “Every week we are putting out our biological control agents,” she said.

They are using integrated pest management to protect the flowers and other perennial plants. It’s the use of natural and biological predators on the pests that come latched on to Claussen’s plants when they arrive from out of state. “We all want to save the butterflies and the bees, so that’s the goal -- is to use less chemicals and more natural predators,” King said. Her management practices over the last 20 years have become so successful she was just recognized for outstanding achievement by the Northeastern IPM Center.

Chris Conant, the farm’s owner, says the work has become essential to their everyday business. “I’m really proud of her and what she has done for us as a company, for the community, and obviously for the environment and the safety of our employees,” he said.

The idea of integrated pest management initially scared Conant, but he estimates the practice has allowed them to reduce their chemical use by almost 99%, only needing it for specific cases or special circumstances. “We’re probably spending more money on beneficials than we ever did on chemicals. But at the same time, when I think about the safety of the environment, the employee, and the customers, it’s a win-win for us,” Conant said

And experts say what model Claussen’s is doing can be a model for other growers. “It really can and should be used in any horticultural practice or horticultural operation,” said Margaret Skinner, a research professor with the University of Vermont’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She says this practice can reduce pesticide use and keep new pests from finding a foothold. She works closely with King, sharing knowledge and learning about Claussen’s operations. “It’s good for the industry, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for people.”

As King gets ready for another growing season, she has to be ready for whatever bugs show up as the plants come in. “It’s taken a long time to develop and you know, every year things change and you have to keep changing,” she said.