Out of Thin Air, A Way to Fight Plant Diseases
Bill Siegmund makes the case that owners of Michigan vineyards and orchards need only to look to the sky for an ally in their fight against plant diseases and pests.
As founder and co-owner of Traverse City-based Pure Water Works, Sigmund sells pull-behind equipment that creates ozone from the air. When mixed with water and sprayed on plants regularly, the “ozonated” mist, he said, is a highly-effective, non-toxic method of keeping plants healthy.
“Ozone encourages the natural ability of plants to avoid diseases and pests,” Siegmund said. “By comparison, chemicals are incredibly expensive and toxic. They are poisons.”
At the same time, he acknowledged that vineyard and orchard managers transitioning from chemicals to ozone face some challenges. There is the initial cost of the equipment, and, because ozone evaporates quickly, usually within a half hour or less, it needs to be applied about twice as often as traditional chemical treatments. Increased applications mean higher labor costs.
Still, Siegmund countered that it doesn’t take long to recoup those labor and initial equipment expenses when growers no longer have to buy costly chemicals.
Ozone, he said, also has a major plus side for the environment. “You’re not putting chemicals into the product or into the ground.”
He agreed that ozone’s quick evaporation necessitates more frequent spraying, but he said natural volatility also has its advantages.
“Ozone decomposes rapidly to produce oxygen, so it leaves no residues,” he explained.
That is why ozone applications are already fairly common in food production and are used in some wine-growing regions to keep winery tanks and hoses microbe-free. Some observers also say that ozone leaves no aftertaste in the finished wine or harvested orchard fruit.
Jay Budd, of Mutual Farm Management, a local company that provides planting through harvesting services throughout the region, said ozone’s rapid evaporation rate also allows crews to get back into fields much sooner after being applied. That can allow growers to quickly address plant health issues that may arise.
“That’s true,” Siegmund said. “You can’t spray chemicals less than 14 days before harvest. And that’s an indication of how toxic the chemicals are. By comparison, you can apply ozone the day of harvest.”
Mutual Farm Management purchased an ozonator near the end of last year’s grape harvest but so far has adopted a wait-see attitude toward implementing the technology.
Pure Water Works has promoted ozone among Michigan fruit farmers and vintners for the past five years. Despite those efforts, long-held traditions change slowly. There have been successful demonstrations here and elsewhere in Michigan, but there seems to be no big rush to embrace the new technology.
But Siegmund believes the tide is turning.
He said regulatory approval of ozone, combined with the public’s demand for safer, healthier food, have started to change some minds.
Ozone has already made significant inroads in Europe.
“Consumers and growers there are beginning to see that it’s safe,” Siegmund said. “Food hygiene is something the EU demands. Also, using a chemical treatment in Europe is extremely expensive.
“I’m not being pushy, but I think we’re making some progress,” Siegmund said.
He hopes that carbon credit systems like those in use in Europe (and agreed upon by the United States as a signee of the Kyoto Protocols and reaffirmed in the Paris Accords) will at some point be implemented in this country.
NOT JUST OZONE
Pure Water Works does much more than promote ozone. The company also assembles, sells, rents and services residential, office, industrial and large commercial water treatment equipment throughout North and South America and operates a state-certified testing lab. In addition, Pure Water Works delivers three- and five-gallon bottles of purified water to homes and offices in northern Michigan.
Siegmund founded the company in 1980.