April 1- not fooling anyone, spring is around the corner

I am writing a somewhat rare joint apple-grape bulletin today to start off the 2023 season. This year marks my 29th season growing apples in New England, and 18th (I think) growing grapes. That’s a long time to be at it, when just before that I was convinced that I left farming behind when I left the dairy farm and headed off to college. Such is the way things go. I hesitate, however, to continue to call myself a farmer, particularly as the letters after my name and number of words in my title grows. Suffice to say that, despite the changes in duty I’ve had over the years, I remain committed to Vermont specialty crop growers, and look forward to the season ahead. My former colleague and mentor Lorraine Berkett always said we needed to be ready for the growing season by April 1. Like many, I am not ready, but the season will come to us as it does, and I plan to use these notes to help us all get through it together.

This season I have an excellent team working with me on both crops that I have research and Extension responsibilities for. My two graduate students, Bethany Pelletier and Eli Wilson, will be helping me out both by conducting their own research and teaching activities and by helping to be eyes and ears on farm both with me and with undergraduate students we will host this summer. You can expect to see their bylines a bit as they share their experiences with the community. I also have a new operations manager at the farm, Brian Vaughan, who will help me out with spraying and other work at the UVM farm, once we get him set up with his applicator’s license.

Speaking of pesticide rules, the Vermont Pesticide Rules were updated for the first time in over 30 years this past winter and the new rules went into effect in February. Every grower should review the rules here. The changes are a bit too long to summarize here, but include standardization of classifications; new rules for applicators; new standards for recordkeeping; standards for protection to pollinators (or particular interest to fruit growers, more to come on this); and changes to transportation and storage requirements. A summary of the regulation changes may be found in the Spring 2023 Vermont Pesticide Applicator Report, starting on page 3. That report also includes a refresher on the updated Worker Protection Standards rules that you should refresh yourselves with before the growing season commences.

I will put in a separate and distinct comment here- I don’t care if your operation uses organic, non-organic, or other materials, becoming a licensed applicator ensures that you have been trained, maintain training, and are tested on your knowledge of safe use of agricultural chemicals. Everyone in our community should be trained, licensed, and hold ourselves to the highest standards to maintain environmental quality and ours’ and our workers’ and families’ safety as we protect our crops.

I’ll wrap up with a suggestion to get your ducks in a row for the season that will rapidly be here. Besides getting up-to-speed on regulations and requirements, we should be cleaning, testing, and calibrating our sprayers; checking and ordering inventory; finishing up pruning; performing orchard and vineyard sanitation by shredding leaf litter and brush; and getting set up with a weather station and monitoring program for your farm so that you can make informed and wise decisions rather than rely on gut instinct in the season ahead.

Here’s to a good spring and great growing season overall.