Region appropriate growing practices
The Eco program has created a rigorous protocol of the most advanced Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices, tailored to growing conditions in the Northeast. Growers in the Eco program go above and beyond to make sure that the best apples are both local and ecologically grown.
Growers in the Northeast are longtime leaders in adopting and promoting eco-friendly practices that adapt to growing conditions and climate in their region. The most ecological and effective practices aren’t the same for every locale.
Some regions experience weather and pest issues addressed well by the guidelines for organic certification, like the drier West Coast with significantly fewer pests. Other regions, like the Northeast, experience a climate much less suitable to the organic protocol, especially for tree fruit crops, like apples.
Even though the Northeast grows some of the best apples in the world. Over 93% of certified organic apples sold in the US come from the Pacific Northwest, where the organic production protocol is a good fit for the regional climate. But tree fruit growers in the Northeast face more than sixty species of damaging insects, twice as many diseases, and a much wetter climate compared to the Pacific Northwest – making certified organic production not always the most sustainable approach.
Most sustainable fruit growers — including organic, biodynamic and Eco — rely on Integrated Pest Management philosophy in their orchards. IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests and their damage. IPM uses a combination of techniques including biological control, habitat manipulation, and resistant varieties. Permitted pesticides, excluding the highest risk treatments, are used as a last resort and only after careful monitoring.
In IPM, treatments are made with the goal of protecting fruit quality and strengthening the orchard overall, not just removing an individual pest. IPM practices vary by location, season, climate and variety, and must be adapted to the region in which they are applied — that’s where the Eco program comes in.
The program addresses specific farming challenges and continually adapts to deliver better, more ecologically-grown fruit – season by season, crop by crop, orchard by orchard.
The Eco Protocol is a living document, revised annually to reflect the best available scientific methods for growing fruit in our region. Growers meet regularly with Red Tomato staff, extension agents, scientists, and international experts. By including the most recent research and grower experience in the protocol, growers in the Eco program are on the cutting edge of advanced IPM strategies.
The Eco Core Protocol is extensive, and covers 7 areas of farm practices:
- Operations and Management
- Ecosystem, Soil and Water Conservation
- Pesticide Risk Reduction
- Pollinator Protection
- Pest Monitoring and Management
- Food Safety and Product Quality
- Energy and Waste Management
In addition, Eco Apple and Eco Peach certification each have unique requirements. Because each crop has specific pest pressures, the Eco program is designed to offer advanced management techniques for specific pests.
Curious to see the details? The current protocols are always available on the IPM Institute of North America website!
A 2017 analysis of audit records showed the use of high-risk chemicals among five Eco-certified orchards (those participating in the program the longest), has decreased 59% since 2004, the year before the program began, and has continued to drop 18% since 2010.
Eco-certified growers are focused on protecting their pollinators and other beneficial insects, and work hard to protect ground and surface water, wildlife, soil and orchard health, all while growing a marketable crop.
In partnership with the IPM Institute of North America and scientists from across the country, we continually update the Eco protocol to include the most up to date research. We rely on experts like the Danforth Lab at Cornell University, and the Xerces Society to stay current with research on both native and commercial bees and pollinators, and to support growing practices that protect and nurture these essential partners in the life cycle of healthy fruit.
Launched in 2005, the Eco certification program was created to support growers in our region by bringing together the best of Local and Ecological growing practices, educating the public about their value, and building a market that keeps local orchards thriving and local apples abundant.
In the 15 years since, Red Tomato has sold over $25 million and 1.2 million cases of Eco-certified fruit – peaches and apples—in addition to millions more sold directly by certified orchards and enjoyed by grocery store, farmers market, farm stand and pick-your-own customers across the Northeast.
The Eco program has been developed with the support of funders including:
USDA, EPA Region 1, Northeastern IPM Center, Northeast Farm Credit, Farm Aid, Toward Sustainability, and many generous individual supporters of Red Tomato.