Conservation Plantings on Farms

By Sam EarnshawHedgerows Unlimited

Native plant hedgerow on Central Coast vegetable farm

Hedgerows, windbreaks and grassed waterways are increasingly being planted on farms and can be co-managed for food safety and ecological functions on the farm.  Native shrubs and trees planted in hedgerows and windbreaks support bees that provide pollination services and serve as habitat for beneficial insects that attack pests. Windbreaks reduce wind damage to crops and intercept pathogens, pesticides, and dust. Grassed waterways and other conservation plantings help to filter pollutants, reduce non-point source water pollution and groundwater pollution, and increase surface water infiltration. These plantings enhance biodiversity on the farm.  Pollination, pest control, and water quality protection yield economic returns to the farmer and healthy, safe food to the consumer.

Co-managing for food safety involves monitoring the crop and the conservation planting for animal damage, presence of fecal matter, and signs of intrusion.  If monitoring indicates an increased risk, growers can use mitigation measures to discourage animal intrusion and minimize crop loss.  A recent article published on August 10, 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/08/05/1508435112.full.pdf) found that clearing non-crop vegetation around farms involved in the study did not reduce the presence of two primary pathogens (enterohemorrhagic E. coli and Salmonella enterica) responsible for the majority of bacterial outbreaks in fresh produce.  As buyers and auditors become more familiar with the benefits and low risks associated with biodiversity plantings, they will help farmers integrate nature into growing safe food.

A good risk assessment (pre-season, pre-harvest) would monitor both the crop and the surrounding area (conservation planting).  If there is evidence of animal presence in the surrounding area, but not in the crop area, then notes would indicate that based on continued monitoring the risk is considered low.  If the risk is medium or high, then the grower would indicate what mitigation measures have been taken to prevent animal intrusion or contamination to the crop.  Destruction of the crop would only happen if there was an unforeseen incident and an investigation would be conducted to determine what steps to take to prevent further occurrences.  A pro-active approach includes monitoring and mitigating to prevent any crop loss, along with a record keeping system to communicate those efforts to auditors and customers.

Co-managing for food safety involves monitoring the crop, not the conservation planting, for animal damage, presence of fecal matter, and signs of intrusion. If part of the crop is impacted by animals, it is destroyed. If the animals continue to cause harm, steps are taken to discourage them. As buyers and auditors become more familiar about the benefits and low risks associated with biodiversity plantings, they will help farmers integrate nature into growing safe food.

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By Sam EarnshawHedgerows Unlimited