By Stacey Stearns
Jude Boucher testing soil.
The name Jude Boucher is synonymous with vegetable production in Connecticut. Since joining UConn Extension in 1986, Jude has made a profound impact on the industry as the Extension Educator for vegetable crops Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Jude received his bachelor’s degree in Entomology from the University of New Hampshire, his masters in Entomology from Virginia Tech, and then earned his Ph.D. at UConn in Plant Science.
Jude provides cutting-edge solutions to growers on pest management and crop production problems, keeping them competitive on the local, regional, and national level. “Educating farmers in sustainable, profitable and environmentally-sound food production practices benefits every man, woman and child in the country directly, on a daily basis, by helping to maintain a safe and secure food source. Knowledge of effective IPM practices helps prevent excess application of pesticides by otherwise frustrated growers,” he says.
Jude has a multi-faceted approach to his Extension education program that allows him to reach a vast number of growers, not only in Connecticut, but, throughout the Northeast. During the growing season, he works with numerous farms to improve their business and address crop issues as they arise. From conventional to organic farms, new farmers to experienced farmers; Jude works with everyone and improves their economic viability and production. In 2015, he worked with 18 farmers one-on-one throughout the state on a weekly or every other week basis.
As the co-editor of Crop Talk, a quarterly newsletter on vegetables and small fruit, science-based updates reach a circulation of approximately 1,000 people. Crop Talk provides growers with a calendar of upcoming events and workshops, and articles on cutting-edge production practices. Each year, Jude co-chairs the Connecticut Vegetable and Small Fruit Growers’ Conference in January. The conference is widely attended, with over 300 people and 30 exhibitors. He has served on the steering committee for the three-day New England Vegetable and Small Fruit Conference and Trade Show for many years, and as General Chairman from 2013-2016. This biennial conference has outgrown its location twice, and has a reputation as the conference to attend throughout the Northeast, with up to 1,800 attendees.
A weekly pest message is produced and emailed to his list serve, posted on the IPM website, or recorded as a message farmers can call in and listen to. In 2014, Jude was unable to get into the fields to gather crop scouting and monitoring data to share with the hundreds of growers who depend on the pest messages because of a late-season ski accident. His message became reports from the farm, with over 25 of his previously trained IPM farmers contributing throughout the summer.
Jude adopted a hybrid to this plan in 2015, which included his own scouting reports as well as those from his trained farmers. The weekly pest message now includes more photographs, equipment for small farms, trellis systems, and high tunnel production systems.
Diversifying a Traditional Farm
Jude has assisted Fair Weather Acres in Rocky Hill in diversifying and building resiliency to the challenges Mother Nature provided. The farm is over 800 acres along the Connecticut River. Jude advised Billy and Michele Collins on ways to diversify their marketing efforts and the number of crops they grow, after flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011 washed away much of the crops, and left the farm in debt.
Originally, the farm received IPM training on three crops: beans, sweet corn, and peppers. With diversification, Billy began producing 55 different varieties of vegetables. Jude taught him pest management for his new crops, and the Collins hired an Extension-trained private consultant to help monitor and scout pests and implement new pest management techniques.
“I encouraged and advised Michele on how to develop a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture on their farm and introduced the couple to other successful CSA farm operators for additional consultations,” Jude says. “Michele started the CSA with 120 members in 2012, and – through a variety of methods – has exceeded 400 CSA shares, and expects to reach 500 summer shares in 2016. In 2013, they started offering separate fall CSA shares to their customers, and that now has over 400 members.”
Michele and Billy give back to Extension by speaking at state and regional conferences, and by hosting twilight meetings, research plots on their farm, and UConn student tours.
“Jude has been an integral part of the growth and diversification of our farm. His extensive knowledge and passion for agriculture, coupled with his love of people and farmers in particular, make him an unrivaled asset to Connecticut agriculture,” Michele says. “Jude has taught us, advised us, and offered us unlimited guidance in many areas including IPM, alternative farming concepts, marketing, and agribusiness just to name a few. Without Jude’s support and encouragement through our difficult years after the storm, we would not have such a positive outlook on the future of our business. We hope Jude will continue to offer his exceptional assistance for years to come.”
Building a New Farm
Oxen Hill Farm is a family enterprise in West Suffield that began when the Griffin family inherited an idle hay and pasture farm with the intent of creating an organic vegetable and cut flower farm.
“Besides small-scale home vegetable and flower gardens, they had no experience operating a commercial vegetable and cut-flower business,” Jude says. “They signed up for training with me, and the first year, 2009, started with an acre of organic vegetables and cut flowers.”
A deluge of rain during June and July taught the family many hard lessons about late blight on tomatoes and wet season pests, but they also effectively combatted weeds without herbicides, improved strategies to market their produce, and developed techniques to preserve produce with proper sanitation and post-harvest handling.
“Despite the challenges of their first year, they expanded their business in 2010, growing from 36 CSA members to over 150,” Jude continues. “They also enlarged their acreage onto their parents’ home farm, to almost 20 acres of crops, and learned to grow everything from artichokes to zucchini. They learned how to prevent or combat caterpillars on their broccoli, leafhoppers on their beans and potatoes, blights on their tomatoes, and many other pests that all wanted a share of their crops.”
The farm is entering its fifth year of USDA Organic Certification through the Baystate Certifiers, and has expanded to over 120 acres, residing at the home farm and land purchased in 2014. The cut flower business remains at the inherited farm, and also caters to weddings, floral arrangements and retail sales.
Finding a Better Way
Nelson Cecarelli of Cecarelli Farm in Northford and Wallingford contacted Jude for advice on transitioning to deep zone tillage (DZT) after multiple severe rainstorms in 2006 left 4-foot deep erosion ditches in his sweet corn fields. Jude, Nelson, and Tom Scott – of Scott’s Yankee Farms in East Lyme – researched the options, and co-wrote a pair of grants to document the benefits and problems of using DZT versus conventional field preparation.
“DZT allows a grower to prepare a narrow seedbed, only inches wide, rather than exposing the surface of the whole field to wind and rain,” Jude explains. “Farms can also till deeply, right under the crop row to loosen any hardpan that has formed after years of using a plow and harrow. This allows the soil to absorb and retain more water and allows the plants to extend their roots deeper into the soil. The system also improves soil quality over time.”
Jude organized conferences, workshops and twilight meetings on DZT and published many articles and fact sheets to help growers get started with this form of reduced tillage. The three of them have made presentations at various state and regional workshops and Nelson and Tom have both continued to seek ways to improve their farms, and worked with Jude to mentor other farmers on DZT. There are now Extension programs in every New England state advocating the use of DZT, and over 45 growers in the region have switched to DZT.
Although the grant has ended, Jude and Nelson are researching soil quality in DZT fields. Jude continues working with different farmers on IPM, bringing economic viability to farms throughout the state, and securing the future of our local food systems