(154) Alternatives for Pest Management in a Tropical Organic Watermelon Production System

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  • 1 University of Puerto Rico, Horticulture, Mayaguez, PR, 00681

While much research has been conducted in organic farming, little has focused on tropical systems. Tropical, versus temperate, systems present additional challenges for organic producers, including differences in soils, temperature, daylength, rainfall, and humidity. Pest management in tropical organic systems can be particularly demanding due to the year-round pest pressure and optimal environment for pest proliferation. Weed management is essential for the production of high-quality watermelons, but can be difficult when herbicides are not permitted. Weeds also serve as a source of inoculum for disease organisms and a habitat for insects, both beneficial and detrimental. Many products have been advertised for pest control in organic farming systems, most of which have not been adequately evaluated in independent, replicated trials. Here we investigated alternatives to pesticides for the control of weeds, insects, and diseases in `Crimson Sweet' watermelons. A split plot on a RCBD with four replications per treatment was used, with weed treatment (± paper-grass mulch) as the main plot and 12 insect and disease control alternatives as subplots. The alternatives for insect and disease control included traditional copper-based fungicides, biological control agents, potassium bicarbonate, hydrogen dioxide, milk, and commercial formulations of essential oils. Weed abundance (percentage cover), disease severity (percentage disease), and insect damage (percentage foliar damage) were evaluated weekly using a modified Horsfall-Barratt scale. Yield and quality were measured at harvest on five plants from each replication. While none of the products should be relied upon as the sole means of managing pests, those with efficacy could be integrated into organic management programs.

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