Contact: Robin Usborne <mailto:[log in to unmask]> 

517-432-1555, ext. 169


David Epstein <mailto:[log in to unmask]>  



Dale Rozeboom <mailto:[log in to unmask]>  






            EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Casting pearls before swine may be a
waste of time, but drop some apples in front of them and they may prove
to be a valuable asset in an organic apple orchard.

            Jim Koan, owner of AlMar Orchards in Flushing, has been
working with Michigan State University (MSU) researchers to see if
allowing hogs to graze on dropped apples can help control the orchard
pest plum curculio. This first year of the project has revealed that
hogs may offer a variety of advantages to an organic orchard.

            "Plum curculio comes into an orchard in the spring and lays
eggs in the fruit, and the resulting worms, or larvae, develop in the
apples, causing many to drop off the tree in mid-June or July," says
David Epstein, tree fruit specialist with the MSU Integrated Pest
Management Program. "The larvae exit the apple and tunnel into the soil
before emerging as adults to start a summer generation.

            "What the hogs do is interrupt that cycle," he says. "If
timed properly, they eat those dropped apples before the larvae have a
chance to go into the soil and develop into adults."

            Koan brought three 150-pound Berkshire hogs (two sows, one
boar) into the orchard. Of 30 piglets farrowed, 27 survived. 

            For three weeks during the "June drop" period, dropped
apples were counted to quantify how many apples fall to the orchard
floor. The pigs were rotated into the orchard to feed for two to three
days and then removed. Again, apple counts were done to determine what
the pigs left behind. Rarely were any dropped apples found.

            "Eighty to 90 percent of their food was apples, supplemented
with organic corn," Koan says. "They loved the June drops, with the
piglets liking them best. The hogs would lie around while the piglets
would scurry from tree to tree as one group to feed."

            In comparison, the orchard areas where no hogs were grazed
had five times the curculio damage as the grazed areas. In addition,
Koan noticed the hogs' rooting around the apple trees saved him from
having to rototill around each tree to suppress weeds in the grazed
organic orchard. The pigs will be grazed through the orchard once again
this winter. 

            Dale Rozeboom, MSU animal scientist, monitored the orchard
herd's reproduction, health and nutrition for the project. One of the
major challenges with a foraging diet of apples is getting enough

            "The pigs born last spring are not up to market weight yet,
likely a result of plenty of exercise. Otherwise they seem to be very
healthy," Rozeboom says. "We've only observed light numbers of parasites
in collected fecal samples."

            In a controlled experiment conducted at MSU, Rozeboom fed
plum curculio larvae to 3-month-old pigs and collected and washed all
feces to confirm that ingestion by pigs was lethal to the larvae. Of
more than 250 larvae fed over a six-day period, no live plum curculio
and only the remains of one dead larva were found.

            "This was an encouraging first year for the project,"
Epstein says. "One of the issues we want to look at further is the
optimal number of pigs needed per acre to control plum curculio." 

            As the project continues, Rozeboom will be looking at pork
production-related factors, such as the type of supplements necessary
for adequate weight gain and pork quality.

            This research is funded through a grant by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture Integrated Organic Program. Epstein is also
funded partially by Project GREEEN. Founded in 1997, Project GREEEN
(Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental
Needs) is a cooperative effort between plant-based commodities and
businesses together with the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station,
MSU Extension and the Michigan Department of Agriculture to advance
Michigan's economy through its plant-based agriculture. Its mission is
to develop research and educational programs in response to industry
needs, ensure and improve food safety, and protect and preserve the
quality of the environment. 

            To learn more about Michigan's plant agriculture initiative
at MSU, visit < <> >.




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