Organic hot peppers pep up north Florida growers' bottom lines

August 19, 2004, ARS News Service: Growing hot peppers organically in Florida is a viable option for growers because insect pests are not a significant threat to hot peppers there, according to findings from an Agricultural Research Service scientist and her collaborators.

The study compared the growth of hot peppers in two different systems. In one, peppers were grown using organic soil nutrients, including poultry manure and mushroom compost. In the other, peppers were grown with chemical fertilizer and conventional pesticides.

While bell peppers are the second most important vegetable crop in Florida, many producers also have significant acreage devoted to hot peppers.

Jesusa C. Legaspi, an entomologist with the ARS Center for Biological Control on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla., recently reported the results from a study of Scotch Bonnet and Caribbean Red hot pepper varieties. She collaborated on the study with scientists from Florida A&M and the University of Florida in Gainesville. The Center for Biological Control is a field office of the ARS Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology in Gainesville.

There was no difference found in the number of peppers harvested from either organic or chemical fertilizer plots in either variety.

Populations of plant insect pests and their beneficial natural enemies were also studied. Populations of several insect pests, including whiteflies, aphids and thrips, were very low during the growing season, probably due to the presence of their natural enemies, ladybugs and hover flies.

In north Florida, small growers are finding a viable niche market producing hot peppers. Results show hot peppers may be a good market for growers there because they seem to require little maintenance.

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