It also added a no-rinse vegetable wash called ProSan that works against disease-causing pathogens, spoilage organisms, and tomato plant pathogens. And it has replaced transfer belting in its packhouse 1 to improve cleaning and hygiene.
You Might Also Like
Explore This IssueJune/July 2014
Also By This Author
Last year it also bought two Hygiena EnSURE quality monitoring systems. The handheld units for adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, monitoring help the company prove the cleanliness of its surfaces and its validation processes within seconds, according to Queenan. The systems also can test for coliforms and E.coli at the beginning of a packhouse shift and reveal the results before the end of the day. Backyard also uses Hygiena’s MicroSnap rapid E.coli protocol for detection and to keep the bio-burden low.
The company has enhanced seed, seedline, and mature tomato plant testing by hiring a plant pathologist/consultant to help it create and implement tomato pathogen protocols. It is now using RT-PCR, PCR, and Bio-PCR methods that can find minute amounts of bacteria, viruses, and viroids. Backyard also started swabbing at the plant propagator to monitor for pathogens.
Integrated pest management (IPM) starts at the seed, according to Erika Verrier, director of IPM at Backyard. She says that early scouting for problems sets Backyard apart from many of its competitors.
“It starts at the seed. We see if the plants are up to our standard quality. And we do IPM until the plants arrive at our greenhouses,” she says. “We test all the seeds and plants at the propagation facility to assure we don’t invite anything into our greenhouses.” Common tomato pests are the whiteflies and aphids. Plant diseases like botrytis (brown fungus) also can be a problem in a greenhouse. “If you build it, they will come,” Verrier jokes.
She says a group of scouts look at every plant in the greenhouse in a two- to three-week period. “We’ve gotten good at managing it over the last year,” she says. Every plant gets individual attention. The result: a significant decrease in botrytis in the last year. The disease had actually decreased the company’s crop density 30 percent the prior year, but now the density is back to normal.
Backyard has to be particularly diligent because it uses an interplant technique, which means there is a continuous crop year round. Young plants are grown near old plants on the same gutter. Each tomato crop cycle lasts six months, with two months of overlap between the aging crop and the newly interplanted crop. “Our scouting is more intense in the two months when we have the two crops going at once,” comments Verrier.
Of the current IPM team of 15 people, about half are scouts. She says the scouting part of the IPM team is unusual in the industry—the company has a designated team of full-time scouts rather than relying on consultants. “We work as a team to determine the best options for control. So we can explore other alternatives besides pesticides,” she says.
One focus is on biological controls, which are working well for whiteflies—they now are at historical lows in the greenhouses. “We rear native beneficial insects on host plants in greenhouses to control whiteflies,” says Verrier. In Maine, the insect is the Dicyphus hesperus, which acts as a biological army against whiteflies, aphids, and moth eggs. The alternative is to mechanically scrape off the whitefly or other infestations with blades. “In a greenhouse, things move quickly,” she says.
One of the things Verrier says Queenan has highlighted that sets Backyard apart from other tomato greenhouses is minimizing the risk of plants not meeting the company’s quality standards. And that means looking for new ways to assure quality, and to do so sustainably.