Building agricultural resiliency: During tour with Senate leaders, Oliveira shows off research at UMass Cold Springs Orchard in Belchertown

Sen. Jake Oliveira points out the Belchertown State School campus and Mount Holyoke range with Farm Manager Shawn McIntire on the horizon of Cold Springs Orchard.

Sen. Jake Oliveira points out the Belchertown State School campus and Mount Holyoke range with Farm Manager Shawn McIntire on the horizon of Cold Springs Orchard. STAFF PHOTO/EMILEE KLEIN

Senate leadership poses for a photo with Cold Springs Orchard staff, UMass Extention leadership and UMass College of Natural Science administration. 

Senate leadership poses for a photo with Cold Springs Orchard staff, UMass Extention leadership and UMass College of Natural Science administration.  STAFF PHOTO/EMILEE KLEIN

Sen. Jake Oliveira stands on an apple box to explain the agricultural goods and agritourism opportunities in Belchertown. 

Sen. Jake Oliveira stands on an apple box to explain the agricultural goods and agritourism opportunities in Belchertown.  STAFF PHOTO/EMILEE KLEIN

Shawn McIntire, farm manager at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard Research and Education Center, displays pheromone traps that help set the need to spray.

Shawn McIntire, farm manager at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard Research and Education Center, displays pheromone traps that help set the need to spray. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Shawn McIntire, the farm manager at University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard Research and Education Center, sprays a row of apple trees to prevent fire blight and apple scab.

Shawn McIntire, the farm manager at University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard Research and Education Center, sprays a row of apple trees to prevent fire blight and apple scab. STAFF PHOTOs/CAROL LOLLIS

Shawn McIntire, the farm manager at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard Research and Education Center, talks about the pheromone traps used to assess which insects might be plaguing the fruit trees, how many there are and where the farm needs to spray.

Shawn McIntire, the farm manager at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard Research and Education Center, talks about the pheromone traps used to assess which insects might be plaguing the fruit trees, how many there are and where the farm needs to spray. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Shawn McIntire, the farm manager at University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard Research and Education Center, sprays a row of apples tress to prevent fireblight and apple scab.

Shawn McIntire, the farm manager at University of Massachusetts Cold Spring Orchard Research and Education Center, sprays a row of apples tress to prevent fireblight and apple scab. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 05-06-2024 5:17 PM

Modified: 05-07-2024 9:33 AM


BELCHERTOWN — Among UMass Cold Springs Orchard’s 35 acres of apple trees hang little orange tents at the top of the trees that, despite the blazing color, are discretely managing pesky moths.

These prism-shaped moth traps release pheromones to attract male moths inside, where they are trapped in a very sticky coating. Farmers then take note of the species and number of moths in the trap and decide whether the species pose a threat to their crops, and whether the number of moths is large enough to warrant pest-removal.

The bright orange tents are one of several pest monitoring and identification methods developed at the orchard in Belchertown as part of UMass’s research on integrated pest management, an environmentally conscious way of controlling pests. By understanding the pests attracted to crops during each development stage and the point at which pests impact economic viability of crops, farmers can take measured steps to deter insects from ruining crops without hurting pollinators or using environmentally-toxic chemicals.

“Our growers face 100 battles every day to bring us the food that we rely on to strengthen our communities,” said Liz Garofalo, an educator with UMass Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE).

“Integrated pest management is the toolbox that our growers have to wage those battles and win them.

Wetter weather and mild winters attract species from southern states, posing unforeseen threats to crops and wiping out entire harvests. The agriculture research conducted at the 215-acre Cold Spring Orchard is pivotal to preserving crops threatened by climate change and maintaining the rich history of agriculture in western Massasuchussetts.

State Sen. Jake Oliveira not only recognizes this fact but chose to show it off to the state’s Senate leadership during a tour to the region last week.

“Many of your constituents, if you have any fruit farms in your district, they’ve been to this farm for annual conferences to look at some of the technologies looking to maximize production, looking to yield themselves a greater crop but also protecting themselves against climate change,” Oliveira said. “The work that’s done here is research and work that’s used not just here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, but worldwide.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Music in the sky: Summit House Sunset Concert Series returns to its 173-year-old home
Knitters’ paradise: Webs, ‘America’s Yarn Store’ and a mainstay for Valley crafters for generations, turns 50
Easthampton to lose Pepin school gymnasium as public recreation space
Easthampton’s 11 Ferry St. project promises affordable five-story, 96-unit complex
Taylor Haas takes the reins as new executive director at Three County Fairgrounds
Sunderland receives $195K grant to study, design multi-use trail from Whately to Amherst

During the tour, experts at the farm were able to demonstrate how the agricultural industries in western Massachusetts continue to provide for the commonwealth, particularily with its research on pest and disease management. Accompanying Oliveira were Senate President Karen Spilka, Majority Leader Cynthia Creem, Assistant Majority Leader Sal DiDomenico and Assistant Majority Leader Michael Barrett.

“It’s wonderful to hear all the relevant research and activities that the farm is doing that are not only helping western Mass but all the farms across the state and beyond,” said Spilka, D-Ashland. “We need this to happen to keep our crops and our nutrition and our food and our economy.”

Farm Manager Shawn McIntire began the tour in the farm store, where the orchard sells apples, apple cider, pears, grapes and honey from August to mid-November. He then led the group up a hill to look over Belchertown and the rows of fruit trees on the property. The tour ended with an explanation of the orchard’s cider press and storage facilities.

Besides the pests, climate conditions like mild winters with little snowfall, frequent heavy rains and late season frosts continue to threaten farm crops and financial stability for farmers. Last year, the orchard lost its entire peach crop when a late frost decimated all the buds and blossoms on the peach trees.

“I’ve been here 28 years and I’ve lost two peach crops,” McIntire said. “The farm hand before me, I don’t recall them ever losing a peach crop. I’ve been hit with hail five times in my 28 years, the farm hand before me, he was hit twice. So the climate is definitely different and it’s changing.”

Oliveira took a moment to mention the grants and funds put together by the state administration not only keep this research going, but help mitigate damage to crops caused by climate change. Garofalo explained that one farmer in Deerfield used some of the funds to purchase a fan that prevents frost from settling on peach buds, saving his crop.

“Last week, I’m sure many of you know there were two nights where we could have lost peaches. (The farmer) was able to save his peaches and use that fan and keep the air moving and prevent that cold air from settling down and harming those peaches. So it’s a really great example of the impact that the work that you all do for our growers,” Garofalo said.

Certain farm positions and summer research internships for undergraduate students at UMass are entirely grant funded. Matthew Bley, a small fruit educator on the farm, is a summer intern-turned-staff member who studies black root rot of strawberries, a complex disease gaining prevalence as winters get warmer. He also helps over 70 berry growers identify the needs and challenges of producing berries in the commonwealth. Bley’s position is paid for by a multi-state Extension Implementation Program grant.

“We are all talking to people in New Jersey, New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut all over the Northeast to figure out what’s going on over there and share what’s going on over here so we can have a communication and a broader picture of where our state is our where agriculture is headed in the future,” Bley said.

Oliveira and his staff organized the event to demonstrate the value Pioneer Valley offers to the commonwealth and the impact state government has on the Valley. The day started with pastries from Ludlow Central Bakery. This leg of the tour ended with Oliveira hopping on an apple box to discuss the various farm products in Belchertown, like the beef at Hudson brothers Valley Farm or Shattuck’s Sugarhouse maple syrup festival.

“The SenaTOUR provides a unique opportunity for members of the Legislature to learn from one another and work together for the betterment of not only our respective districts but all of Massachusetts,” Oliveira said in a press release. “By coming together and uniting stakeholders and policymakers, we can drive the initiatives that strengthen our communities and the Commonwealth.”

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.