WALES’ soft fruit growers are turning to natural mechanisms to protect their crops in the face of rising pesticide costs and tighter regulations.

At Nicholaston Farm, overlooking the Gower coastline, soft fruit producer Tom Beynon is adapting his growing techniques as chemical pesticides become more expensive and their usage restricted.

Businesses need to manage costs to be sustainable and the correct use of pesticides is a means of achieving this, he says.

During a Farming Connect knowledge transfer event at Nicholaston Farm, Penmaen, visitors were told that in some cases the Beynons achieved better results from biological controls.

For years, they had used chemical pesticides to control vine weevils, but it was only when they turned to nematodes that the battle was finally won.

Phytophthra, a soil-bourne disease that affects raspberries in particular, has also been a problem at Nicholaston Farm.

Although restrictions on pesticide usage have influenced the change of approach to treatment, biological measures have also improved significantly in the last 15 years.

“They are definitely now a viable alternative to pesticides,”

said Tom.

“We have always been pesticide aware, we are not going to pour on expensive products that aren’t necessarily going to work.

We only use products out of necessity.”

Choosing disease resistant plant varieties has also been an important tool to preventing crop damage.

The soft fruit business at Nicholaston Farm was established 40 years ago and there are now 20 acres devoted to pickyour- own strawberries, raspberries and other fruit and vegetables.

The Beynons get advice and support from Chris Creed, a senior horticultural consultant at ADAS, who led the discussions at the Farming Connect event.

Visitors were given practical advice on weed and pest control and in choosing varieties resistant to disease. There was also guidance on how analysing soils can help growers ensure that plants get the correct nutrition needed to maximise production.

Weather has been the biggest challenge for soft fruit producers in recent years and it has hit the pick your own market particularly hard because when the rain deters customers, there is no market for the fruit.

But when the weather is good the Beynons are never short of customers.

“People get a considerable amount of enjoyment from foraging for their own food and showing their children where food comes from,” said Tom.

For further information and a fact sheet on integrated pest control and safe use of pesticides for horticultural growers contact Farming Connect on 01970 636565 or visit www. connect.