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Published October 01, 2009, 12:00 AM

Wisconsin project helps apple farmers adopt more eco-friendly practices

As Bayfield prepares for the 48th annual Apple Fest, many of its growers have been working hard to provide a safer and healthier fruit for consumers.

By: Nicolette Helling, Fox 21 News

As Bayfield prepares for the 48th annual Apple Fest, many of its growers have been working hard to provide a safer and healthier fruit for consumers.

A statewide program is helping farmers use fewer and less-toxic chemicals to keep pests off their produce.

Eric Carlson has been using eco-friendly practices on the Blue Vista Farm since he bought the land in 1988. But now that he’s participating in Wisconsin’s Eco Apple Project, his efforts to protect the environment and grow cleaner, safer apples have reached a whole new level.

“It’s just basically a little computer,” Carlson said.

A tall pole standing in the middle of one of Carlson’s orchards is a data collector that records leaf wetness, rain, temperature and humidity every 15 seconds.

“It’ll take all that information and it’ll actually crunch the numbers, and it’ll tell us whether or not we’ve had an infection period,” Carlson said.

Carlson can use that data to determine whether he needs to use pesticides.

“So it’s not just indiscriminate use. We’re not just looking at a calendar, loading the spray gun and going,” Carlson said.

Jason Fischbach is the Ashland and Bayfield counties agricultural agent for the University of Wisconsin Extension and is helping Carlson apply the new methods.

“To be real effective at controlling the pests, it’s important that they understand what pests they have,” Fischbach said.

And Carlson has been doing his homework.

“It’s been a learning experience,” he said. “We’re monitoring whether or not there are codling moths and when they’re emerging.”

Holding up a plastic apple covered in a sticky substance, Carlson said: “And this thing is just covered with apple maggot flies.”

Though the new methods will save Carlson the cost of buying more expensive pesticides, they haven’t made his workload any lighter.

“So what it means is, we need to be out here a lot more,” Carlson said.

Over the last three years he’s been able to reduce his chemical use by more than 60 percent.

“It’s pretty exciting to see the changes that they’ve made,” Fischbach said. “We’ve come a long way.”

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