Researchers at the University of California's sustainable agriculture program will be awarded $200,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to speed the transition to more environmentally sound pest management practices in table grape production.

California is the No. 1 producer of fresh grapes in the United States.

"We're thrilled to received funding to build on efforts growers have already taken to reduce the use of high-risk pesticides in fresh grapes," said Rick Roush, interim director of the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) and principal investigator of the project. "Children, in particular, like fresh grapes, and this research will allow us to help growers increase the adoption of alternatives."

Collaborators from the UC Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier and farm advisors in the Southern San Joaquin Valley will join with UC SAREP researchers to demonstrate biologically integrated farming systems (BIFS) for fresh grapes on farms in the region.

"Since cosmetic appeal is important for fresh grapes, there is low tolerance for pest damage to the fruit," said Walt Bentley, UC Integrated Pest Management entomologist based in Parlier and onsite project leader.

"This project will help farmers use lower-risk pesticides that target specific pests without wiping out beneficial insects or their habitats," he said. "Close monitoring will help growers determine the exact dates that insect pests are most vulnerable to pesticides, which prevents unnecessary pesticide applications."

Alternative biological and cultural controls such as vineyard floor and canopy management practices and the use of reduced-risk materials will also be employed, he said.

"Many of the targeted high-risk materials contribute to air and water with their volatile organic compounds or through leaching and run-off," Bentley said.

California is ranked first in production of table, wine and raisin grapes in the United States. About 85 percent of California's table grape production is in the Southern San Joaquin Valley region.

Reach most growers

By focusing attention on fresh grape growers in Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties, the project will reach most of California's 600 fresh grape growers, according to Bev Ransom, BIFS coordinator for SAREP.

"Many fresh grape growers have already begun shifting to a more environmentally sound farming system," she said. "This project will offer opportunities for 'farmer-to-farmer' information sharing and will bring scientists, farmers and consultants together in a collaborative environment that enables farmers to adapt new practices to local conditions."

Funds for the project come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Food Quality Protection Act grant program. The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 was intended to protect public health by reducing exposure to pesticides and encouraging the development and adoption of lower risk, effective crop protection tools for agriculture. The BIFS fresh grape project will take place from October 2005 through September 2007.