We employ conventional growing practices at Spencer Farm. Our crops are not grown organically, and there are many reasons for that. Organic refers to growing produce without the use of genetically modified organisms or synthetic pesticides. There are three main reasons why we don't grow our crops to be labeled organic. They are location, quantity and quality.
The warm, wet weather conditions with frequent rains during our growing season here in the Midwest are ideal for growing crops; however, they are also ideal for the growth of insects, diseases, and weeds. Because of our Indiana climate, growing sale-able quality organic crops in a large setting is next to impossible in a large scale. There are also some very dangerous fungi and bacteria such as Red Stele, various cankers, Phytopthera, Anthracnose, and more that can affect and often kill the different crops we grow. Organically grown produce in the grocery store most often come from dry aired climates where disease and insects are much less of an issue. They are often times shipped long distances losing a tremendous amount of their nutritional value.
Here we work within our Indiana climate to use sustainable, healthy growing practices. Our crops are sprayed with carefully tested, approved pesticides. However, we do our best to reduce our use of chemicals as much as possible and spray only when necessary. It is important to recognize that organic produce is also sprayed to protect the plants and fruit with sprays that are labeled for organic production. Many of the pesticides we use are a synthetic form of naturally occurring elements like sulfur, as well as pyrethroids which is derived from chrysanthemums.
Here at the farm, we have several acres of crops. It can take a lot of time to care for each crop. In the world of growing organic, there are practices that may be practical to apply in your backyard garden which are not possible when you have many acres. For example, some pests can be trapped or manually removed from the crop to prevent them from damaging the fruit. However, it's just not practical for us to pull bugs off plants all day long. Many insects like the Eastern Flower Thrip are hardly visible to the naked eye, but can do substantial damage to fruit bloom. Instead, we use an Integrated pest management (see below) system which is a combination of cultural, mechanical, biological, and chemical controls to keep pests at bay. For example, to control the spider mites that like to attack various crops and suck juices from the leaves, we find that they have many natural predators like ladybugs, lacewings, and other mites. We also try to use chemicals that don't kill these natural predators, but encourage them to feed upon the harmful mites. All of our produce is safe to eat. Any chemicals that are used have been applied early in the season and have broken down to a safe level prescribed by the manufacturer before you pick them. Spencer Farm tries not to spray for pests during the harvesting of any crop.
Produce grown organically on a large scale in Indiana tend to have a very poor quality. They might be suitable for processing, but would not be produce you would want to purchase for eating. Our goal at Spencer Farm is to grow safe, high quality produce that families can enjoy. We follow all government regulations and suggested practices to ensure that when you're enjoying that fresh picked strawberry, or any other crop we grow, you are eating a healthy, safe product.
What is Integrated Pest Management?
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management defines IPM as: "a system that focuses on reducing pests by using a series of pest management techniques that are safe for the environment and children and use both non-chemical and chemical methods." In following IPM practices, we use a combination of biological, chemical, behavioral, cultural, and genetic factors to control pests on the farm. In using IPM, spraying is not our only method of eliminating bugs and other pests. Instead we use things like sampling plant nutrition, planting more disease resistant varieties, using natural predators to control pests, and others. A great deal of research has been done by Purdue University and other universities in the country to develop safe, good growing practices that can bring a balance to controlling pests through chemicals and other methods.