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Keeping the Blues out of the Blueberries: NRCS Selects RCCD as one of 2020’s CIG Recipients to Combat Fruit Pests

Jeremy J. Fowler, Public Affairs Specialist, NRCS - N.H.

A harvest of blueberries from Barrington, New Hampshire sit awaiting consumption in Durham, New Hampshire July 24, 2020.  These berries do not show signs of the spotted wing drosophila that has had significant impact on fruit yields in the state over the last few years.  A recently awarded federal grant to the Rockingham County Conservation District aims to prevent crop losses on blueberries and other fruits through education and cost-share demonstrations. (Photo by Alina Harris, Partner Biologist Xerces Society/NRCS – N.H.)

Story by: Jeremy J. Fowler, Public Affairs Specialist, Natural Resources Conservation Service, N.H.

DOVER, New Hampshire, August 28, 2020 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in New Hampshire has made a selection for a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) in the state-level selection on July 9, 2020.

The NRCS has announced that the Rockingham County Conservation District (RCCD) was approved for a grant of nearly $80,000 to fund a New Hampshire Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Cost Share Demonstration project. The grant was approved by the agency headquarters in Washington August 25 and is aimed to prevent the problems certain pests have been wreaking on fruit and berry producers in the region.

“Conservation Innovation Grants are critical for developing science, technology and innovative tools to address natural resource concerns on New Hampshire’s private working lands,” said Becky Ross, New Hampshire State Conservationist for NRCS. “We are excited to have our partners step forward to identify the concerns across the state and we look forward to seeing what innovation may be sparked from the projects these grants fund and the benefit that innovation provides our natural resources and our customers.”

The RCCD proposal, completed in collaboration with Strafford and Cheshire County conservation districts, is aimed at controlling the spotted wing drosophila and to be proactive in controlling other pests that can cause devastating crop losses on fruit and berry operations within the state.

A female spotted wing drosophila sits on a blueberry that will host her larva. The larva consumes the berry from the inside as it matures reducing its shelf life and marketability after it is harvested. A recently awarded federal grant to the Rockingham County Conservation District aims to prevent crop losses on blueberries and other fruits through education and cost-share demonstrations. (Photo by Philip Fanning, PhD, Assistant Professor of Agricultural Entomology, University of Maine)“The conservation districts are excited to combine our current Integrated Pest Management programming with our long history of service to farmers,” said Vicky Nelson, District Manager for RCCD. “We see these techniques as an excellent way to help reduce pesticide use and help berry farms who choose not to use pesticide to reclaim their normal growing season.”

The grant will utilize the funding in order to provide education and cost-sharing opportunities for innovative IPM methods to New Hampshire farmers and will involve technical input and participation from the Conservation Districts, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension (UNHCE), and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

"Pest management is a perennial challenge for fruit and berry farmers in the Northeast," said Alina Harris, Partner Biologist at the NRCS in New Hampshire.

Harris who specializes in Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management (IPPM) for the Xerces Society applauds the selection. “We are excited to work alongside farmers to promote cultural practices that reduce economic damage on insect-pollinated crops while also minimizing the harm to non-target organisms, such pollinators and natural enemies of crop pests.”

Harris believes that this grant will set a good foundation for wider adoption of IPM in the state and will allow demonstrations to ‘show, rather than tell’ producers that these methods can work on their operations.  In particular, she believes that the adoption of insect-exclusion netting may be able to gain ground as a result of this grant:

“Though local producers have indicated interest in these methods, upfront cost is a major barrier to adoption,” said Harris. “This grant will provide funding to working farms to demonstrate the effectiveness of exclusion netting at locations where other peer-producers and technical specialists can observe and learn from the successes and potential shortcomings of these methods … We plan to engage with five farms across the state to get a flavor of the different trellis support structures needed to implement this netting in a way that provides pest protection for multiple years."

An education component is also a large part of the grant.  Funds will be used to assist producers in understanding some of the methods, their benefits and drawbacks, and ideally spur innovations from producer feedback.

Organically grown blueberries sit ripening on the bush in Lee, New Hampshire August 9, 2020.  A recently awarded federal grant to the Rockingham County Conservation District aims to prevent crop losses on blueberries and other fruits as a result of the spotted wing drosophila by increasing awareness, education, and providing some cost-share demonstrations for producers about alternatives to pesticides traditionally used to control this pest. Those pesticides have a significant impact on the pollinators required on those plants in order to yield fruits.  (Photo by Alina Harris, Partner Biologist Xerces Society/NRCS – N.H.)With producers being uniquely qualified to solve problems on their own operations, the ultimate goal of CIG is to provide a springboard for farmers to find solutions to their local issues that can then spur development of these methods that can be implemented across the state or region.

Conservation Innovation Grants are competitive grants that drive public and private sector innovation in resource conservation. CIG projects inspire creative problem-solving, creating systems and technologies that boost production on farms, and private forests, and improve water quality, soil health, and wildlife habitat.

The CIG state component emphasizes projects that benefit a limited geographical area. Participating states announce their funding availability for CIG competitions through their state NRCS offices. 

More information on the CIG programs can be found here:



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