Use of heat found to reduce or eliminate small insects and powdery mildew infestations for Viticulture and beyond.
2017 was a landmark year for research into heat-treatments, with multiple scientific and experiential substantiations that heat will control pests and disease on selected crops, allowing for overall decreased chemical applications.
The concept of using heat for pest and disease control has been around for decades, yet the technology is still unknown to many growers. As with any new technology, changing perception (and eventual adoption) is a complex challenge and Agrothermal Systems has taken the approach of offering proof of concept and real-world examples to provide evidence of the effectiveness of thermal pest treatment. By continuously questioning and scientifically testing the efficacy of the technology, Agrothermal strives to change the ingrained perceptions that growers carry.
Below are 4 examples of how Thermaculture was used for pesticide and disease control in 2017.
0. A year in the making
In 2016, heat applications on Foley Family Wine vineyards reduced fungicide by over 50% on three grape varietals. This experimentation continued in New Zealand where Fruition Science reported the same effectiveness a normal fungicide program and a Thermaculture protocol (both applied at 6 day intervals) on Merlot grapes. The control of Powdery Mildew was the same and in an incredibly difficult climate.
1. Reduced fungicides by 50%
After these encouragements, Agrothermal decided to put the PM control issue under the microscope of the world's best known mildew expert, Dr. Doug Gubler. Gubler developed a protocol that alternated heat-treatments with differing fungicides. The protocol was tested at Foley Family Wines in both their Sonoma and Napa Valley vineyards.
Gubler concluded, "Our 2017 replicated trials on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon using heat alternated with fungicide produced the same clean results as a traditional fungicide only protocol, but reduced fungicide use by 50%. This is the first of two years of trials using a specific protocol, but it is clear the potential for heat-treatments in combination with fungicides to control Powdery Mildew is very promising and one that growers might seriously consider."
2. White fly and thrips stopped in their tracks
A study focusing on White Fly control in tomatoes included weekly counts of white fly nymphs and adults on replicated blocks of test and control green ripe field tomatoes for 8 weeks. The Thermaculture rows were treated every 5 days and compared to control rows that received numerous chemical controls. In the end, the incidence of white fly in heat-treated blocks was a fraction of the insects found in the pesticide treated blocks.
According to Agrothermal CEO Marty Fischer, "Small soft bodied insects and any insect that goes thorough nymph or larval life cycle stages on agricultural crops are susceptible to the level of heat our equipment delivers. One Catholic Unversity study done in Chile in 2007 came to the conclusion heat was more effective on thrips in table grapes than pesticides. Recently this was confirmed in demonstration trials in Mexico on thrip populations within Green Onion plantings."
3. Decreased overall fungicide runs
Grower Dennis Murphy reported excellent results using heat-treatment. "I'm pleased to say that I cut out 4 runs of traditional fungicides and had excellent control over powdery mildew in 2017, my first year using Thermaculture protocols." The Murphy family has been growing wine grapes in Alexander Valley, near Geyserville, since 1967.
In an area of California that prides itself on sustainable agricultural practices, reducing chemicals is truly a welcome opportunity. Not to mention the cost savings that accompany the decreased needs.
4. Powdery Mildew consistently controlled
Grower Tom Franscioni (Chualar, CA) began experimenting with his Agrothermal machine in 2016. Franscioni used heat-treatments on a single test block in a vineyard with high PM incidence and experienced excellent control treating every 4 days. He repeated this again in 2017 on a different block with the same results.
"I've satisfied myself that powdery mildew can be controlled well into the growing season cutting back on much of our annual fungicide use. For 2018, I will test other benefits such as yield, wine quality and vineyard health." concluded Franscioni.
As we look back on 2017 and the scientific and anecdotal evidence accumulated, the story of Thermaculture continues to evolve. Heat has conclusively been show to: provide improved yields, crops that are higher in nutritive and disease fighting benefits, fresh produce that will store longer due to higher phenol levels, improved taste, and non-chemical pest control at a fraction of the cost of conventional pest control methods.
Agrothermal Systems is now officially recommending to its growers that they begin applying this technology as a way to reduce chemical applications. According to Fischer, "we will not rush into this, nor will our growers. We will continue to learn and experiment, but it is very clear we can be quite efficacious and cost effective across a broad range of pest and disease issues.”
The Company is also building row crop machines and machine configurations to address most high value fruit and vegetable crops. They expect to field prototypes as early as spring 2018 for use on a multitude of crops and we have many growers interested in how this technology can help them produce safer, more healthful crops with lower input cost.
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