How Golden Acre Growers reduced total IPM Costs, and avoided pest outbreaks growing cucumbers
Greenhouse had a very tight IPM program with scouts using paper maps to scout all week, and summarize their reports and send them to the growers by the end of the week.
Michelle Montgomery is the head grower at Golden Acre Farms in Kingsville, Ontario.
Michelle and her team manage a 45-acre greenhouse facility that predominantly produces English cucumbers. The team at Golden Acres is constantly looking to optimize their operations and maximize their yields, with effective pest management foundational to that goal. Cucumber green mottle mosaic virus, powdery mildew, thrips, and whitefly are all major threats to a cucumber crop; the team has built a diligent IPM program to control these issues.
Recently Michelle and her Assistant Grower, Maggie Watts, sat down with the ecoation team to talk about their IPM program and how it has evolved from a traditional pen-and-paper system to a data digitization technology platform that helps track pests outbreaks, plan treatments and analyze results. The system has been simple to install and easy to use based on its location-aware hardware in the greenhouse.
When it came to pest management, we tried our best to ensure we put together the monitoring and scouting practices that were needed” says Michelle.
“We did establish a very tight scouting program. Our scouts were given paper maps and a section of the greenhouse to cover. They would then go through their sections and put their observations on the paper maps, then on Fridays they would spend the day consolidating the maps and writing a summary report from the week.
The reports were then given to the growers and the growing team would review all the maps and create alternative treatment plans as needed".
She continues, “with good execution, our time to action was 7 to 10 days using the paper-based system. We knew that the time to action was critical when managing a pest outbreak and we have tried to shorten it, however, the administrative burden of manually collecting data was not efficient. Instead, we adjusted our action methods for our weekly treatments and relied on blanket biological applications with occasional sprays to manage these outbreaks”.
The Growing team was constantly in search of tools to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of their IPM program. Michelle and her team have tested multiple technological solutions from various companies but they quickly found that sometimes the hassle and challenge of integrating these systems into their growing operation was not ideal for commercial greenhouse use.
“Technology needs to make your life easier and not harder, ultimately its all about efficiencies”, says Maggie. “For something to be usable in a big operation it has to be something that either improves the business or provides an efficiency in the methods used elsewhere”.
The two growers at Golden Acres took a proposal to use ecoation’s IPM platform to the company’s executive team and with approval from upper management started working with Ecoation in a small section of their farm in the summer of 2021. After a few short months of using the platform with favourable results, the team promptly expanded the use of the Ecoation platform to cover the entire facility.
“It wasn’t a hard decision to make”, notes Maggie. “The OKO (ecoation platform) itself was extremely easy to onboard scouts with and it does improve efficiencies, we definitely noticed a change in pace and speed of the scouting being done per area and per row with the OKO unit”.
While ecoation offers four different packages for its IPM platform – each with different features – the team at Golden Acres chose to use the standard package where all the ecoation hardware is installed on a regular greenhouse scissor-cart which travels up and down the pipe rails in the facility. The ecoation hardware can be installed on many different brands of greenhouse trollies.
“The OKO is one of a kind, there’s nothing else that really does what it can do. It’s a machine built specifically for IPM and to help the growers. At first, you would think that (the OKO) is only there to help the IPM team, but the growers really are the ones that get major benefits from the system.”
The growing team at Golden Acres has realized the different benefits ecoation’s OKO provided to the team. They were better able to track their scout’s progress in real-time, which allowed the team to act immediately. They could see if scouts were falling behind, what they were recording, and follow up on their observations. This helped ensure their scouting team was accountable, while also improving workflow and efficiency.
Another benefit they achieved by using the ecoation platform was that the OKO gave them insight. The OKO’s real-time data transfer allowed them to see what was happening before the scout had returned from the greenhouse at the end of the day. In addition to this, through digitization, smart dashboards, and the mobile app, the ecoation platform keeps growers constantly informed on exactly what is happening in the greenhouse.
This has given the growers operational visibility and peace of mind while running their facility at all times. With the high quality of data being collected, the growing team at Golden Acres could trust that they were making the best decisions, with the best available data, at the best time possible.
“We’ve never been able to actually see the data in real-time, as the scouts are scouting, we’ve always had to follow up with a physical map to see the pest’s presence,” confirms Michelle.
“Being able to see everything on my phone or getting notifications like “hey, a new spider mite spot has shown up in the greenhouse” is super easy. My job after that is to figure out the best treatment plan and ensure the treatment has been done.”
As the ecoation team listened to the Golden Acres story, it was realized that the greatest benefit of the platform has been that it has empowered these growers to reduce their time to act and allow them to get ahead of the pest outbreaks. Almost every grower can tell you that being proactive will lead to better results, but that does not mean that it can be executed successfully and consistently. From the ecoation perspective, by using the OKO system, the Golden Acre Farm’s growing team has been able to react much faster than before, by seeing trends and changes as they are being recorded.
“I typically check the web app two or three times a day. I check the (risk) maps first thing in the morning, around lunchtime, and at the end of the day. I am seeing real-time data and I am able to make decisions within a day, which means we’re treating within two or three days, versus 7-10 days to fully react,” Adds Maggie.
Based on the results and comments from the Golden Acres growing team, using the ecoation platform can enhance an IPM program and provide tangible improvements with major impacts. For example, the growing team at Golden Acres has been able to react more quickly to issues, reducing the inputs needed and the damage that could occur to the crop. They’ve also been able to rely on their biological program more confidently by having accurate and granular reports showing pest pressure and current biological presences available to them at the tip of their fingers! Lastly, they have been able to standardize and quantify their success and learn from their mistakes, leading them to continuously improve their IPM program in the future.
The ecoation platform has resulted in significant savings for the IPM program, with the team estimating close to $100,000 in crop control compared to the previous season.
As the costs of inputs rise, new pest pressures threaten our crops, and data becomes more powerful, now is the best time to introduce ecoation into your greenhouse operations.
As Michelle concludes:
“The ecoation forecasting platform has been a game-changer for me. I no longer have to rely on the scouts to give me status updates; I get real-time notifications that keep me informed about what’s going on at my farm. This has freed up a lot of my time so that I can focus on growing strategies and other on the go projects at Golden Acre Farms.”
Are you a greenhouse pepper or tomato grower looking to more accurately forecast yield in your greenhouse? The ecoation IPM and Yield Forecasting Platform have been proven to help.
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Established in 2010, ecoation is an award-winning Canadian AgTech Service provider with a forecasting platform that provides actionable insights on IPM, crop balance, and growth as well as yield and production metrics which helps growers multiply their success while having more control and visibility into their operations. With customers all over the world, ecoation is one of the fastest growing AgTech Companies in the Controlled Environment Agriculture sector.
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