Sustainable Orcharding

Tracy C. Leskey

Conventional orchard management is guided by the goal of maximizing bearing potential per hectare in order to increase short-term gains. Within this framework, growers typically rely on management practices that are linked to external or off-farm inputs. These external inputs include synthetic pesticides used to control insects, diseases, and weeds; synthetic fertilizers and irrigation systems; and synthetic growth regulators used to control numerous aspects of fruit production, such as budbreak or bloom, fruit set, preharvest drop, size, and color. Shortcomings of reliance on these inputs include pesticide resistance, soil degradation, collateral injury to nontarget organisms, and concerns for human health. Given their reliance on off-farm inputs to establish and maintain production, these management systems reduce long-term sustainability despite increases in short-term gains. Sustainable production in agricultural systems must include consideration of economics and profitability, environmental protection, conservation of natural resources, and social responsibility (Reganold, Papendick, and Parr, 1990). Alternative production systems that view an orchard as a potentially sustainable agroecosystem are becoming more widely accepted as management strategies are developed that lead to less reliance on external inputs. Three widely studied approaches to achieving sustainable orchard production are integrated pest management, integrated fruit production, and organic production.

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