Tea Geese?

Tea Geese (MSU)by Naomi Rosen

A few months ago, a picture on my FB feed showed geese weeding a field. For a farmer looking for organic alternatives, this is a unique option. The researchers at MSU thought the same thing and are now conducting a 2-year study on weeder geese and tea fields. Judson LeCompte, Research Associate at Mississippi State University, was gracious enough to take a few minutes and answer some questions about the geese and the study. He also sent me some ridiculously cute pictures! Enjoy!

USLTG: What sparked the interest in researching weeder geese?

Judson: As we have been looking at factors that would affect tea growers in Mississippi, weed control kept coming up as a problem that we didn’t have a very good answer to. We can use a few different herbicides, but what happens if a grower wants to be organic? One day while talking with one of our growers, he mentioned the idea of using geese. I thought he was crazy but I looked into it. There were a couple of studies done in the 1990s, but nothing recent. I called him and asked why he thought this was such a great idea, and he said, “Judson, if it doesn’t work it will make a good story.” So far he was right, it has been very interesting. People give you really funny looks when you have 12 geese walking behind you on campus.

USLTG: What type of geese are these? Tea Geese (MSU) 4

Judson: Our geese are White Chinese Geese. This breed was developed from the Swan Goose, Anser cygnoides, in Asia as a dual purpose breed for both meat and egg production.

USLTG: Does the type of goose matter? Can you do this with any breed?

Judson: Maybe. It depends on your intent. If you have a crop that is fragile, like young tea plants, it is important to have a smaller breed, like the Chinese Goose. If you were growing something like mature fruit trees, a larger meat breed like Embden Geese would be suitable and you would have a larger bird for slaughter. Chinese Geese also have a longer neck allowing them to get in places other geese might not be able to reach. They are a noisier breed, so hopefully it will make them more intimidating to predators. But overall many breeds have been used as biological weed control for hundreds of years.

USLTG: Are there certain crops this is ideal for? 

Judson: From my research I have found they have been used to weed alfalfa, asparagus, beans, beets, berries, castor, citrus, cotton, grapes, herbs, hops, melons, onions, potatoes, and trees. The key is that they prefer to forage on tender shoots, leaving behind tougher shoots with a waxy cuticle.

Tea Geese (MSU) 2USLTG: Are there other regions that practice this type of weed control?

Judson: In the U.S. there are some organic farmers that utilize geese for weed control. Internationally, China has been using weeder geese for hundreds of years. Geese were widely used across the U.S. until the introduction of conventional herbicides. These herbicides gave excellent control allowing farmers to produce a higher yields and eliminating the need for geese.  It is important to note that each grower will have to determine the amount of weeds that are suitable for their cropping system. Geese are not going to give control that would be similar to conventional herbicides.

USLTG: How do you keep the geese from leaving?

Judson: Our geese are still in a brooder which is just a place to keep them warm and dry until they are fully feathered. Once they get fully feathered they will permanently go to a fenced holding pen. When they go to the research plots to weed they will also be fenced to a certain area of tea field. Right now we go on walks around the farm to let them graze for a couple of hours a day. They have imprinted on me and will follow me everywhere. I should change my job title to “The Goose Father.” They are domesticated so they generally will not fly. If we do have one that likes to be adventurous, we can trim the flight feathers from one wing to make them unbalanced when they try to fly. This procedure doesn’t hurt them, it is like getting a haircut. They are also easy to herd and move where you want them to go, so for farmers that don’t want to fence in their field they can just herd them like sheep.

USLTG: How do you figure out the number of geese you would need? 

Judson: There are a few recommendations around but I think a farmer should learn as they go. Each farm is going to be different in regards to weed pressure, crop, types of weeds, and climate. A figure we are going off of is 6-10 geese per acre. Keep in mind the geese do not have to weed 24/7, they can be held in a pen until weeding is necessary. You could have 50 geese per acre but they wouldn’t be able to graze as long per acre and you would have to supplement their diet with feed.

USLTG: How much do these geese eat? Tea Geese (MSU) 3

Judson: Right now our goslings are almost 4 weeks old and they eat loads! Research that I have seen with the Canada Goose shows they eat around 4 pounds a day in green forage.

USLTG: Where would one begin if they were interested in doing something similar on their farm?

Judson: Information and research on geese as a biological weed control has been limited. We are hoping to be able to share our results and management techniques, but that will be once the study is complete. Currently there are a few sites for hobbyists and many of the hatcheries provide information on using geese as weeders. Also, check with your state extension office, they should have information on raising geese.

A huge thank you to Judson for sharing his experiences and expertise. We will check in with Judson periodically to see how the geese are doing and find out the latest news. Do you have any experience working with feeder geese? Have questions about this form of weed control? We want to hear about it!



We Need Your Updates

WTE 2015World Tea Expo 2015 in Long Beach is right around the corner. The World Tea staff has graciously offered us a one hour slot to reach out to attendees, and we need your help. It is our hope to present the “State of the Tea Union” which allows us to bring people up to speed on current trends in tea growing in the US.

Here’s where you come in: We need your pictures and updates! It doesn’t have to be a dissertation. A picture and a couple of sentences letting us know what’s happening with your land, plants, plans, processing tips/tricks, etc., would be mighty helpful!

Please send them to our Media Coordinator, Naomi Rosen, at naomi@joysteaspoon.com. If you have questions, shoot her a note or give her a call at 877-795-1411.

The USLTG meetup will be held Thursday, May 7th, from 3:30PM – 4:30PM in Room 104B. All are invited to attend! We will be discussing current happenings in US grown tea, membership, and will have a Q&A session. We look forward to seeing many of you there!

Become A Member Of The USLTG!

Become A MemberWe are excited to announce that the US League of Tea Growers will begin accepting members in 2015! There are a number of levels to meet your membership needs, and by becoming a member you are providing the much needed funds to assist in the mission of the league:

  • To actively encourage the growing and production of high value specialty teas within the USA, promote farmer collaboration, and encourage new growers.
  • Act as a repository and archive for information (technical, scientific, practical and commercial) relevant to US tea growing.
  • Represent tea farmers and their views with the US Tea Council and the International Tea Committee.
  • To interact internationally with other tea growers and producers to the mutual benefit of all.
  • Stimulate machinery and systems development by academia or commercial companies to enable high technology agronomy and harvesting and to produce best-method handbooks of proven practical advice on growing, harvesting and processing of tea in the USA.
  • Seek to understand the relationship between the Camellia sinensis genome and commercial requirements.
  • Test and evaluate the genetic material held to select varieties or cultivars most suitable for US growing conditions – to include season extension, pest and disease tolerance, drought tolerance, mechanical handling suitability, processability, cup quality and health benefits.

Membership Levels and Fees

Founder’s level of membership is available until March 31, 2017.  The Founder’s membership level is $1,000.00 (nonrefundable).  “Founder” may be either Full or Associate members. Membership is limited to 1 representative per $1,000 (i.e. $5,000 would equal 5 Founder memberships).

A Small Grower is a Full member, growing 25 plants or more, with voice and vote, and are board eligible. Annual membership fee is $100.00. Grower must reside and grow tea in the United States.

Once a member grows one acre or more of tea plants, they will be considered a Large Grower. Large Growers are Full members, with voice and vote, and are board eligible. Annual membership fee is $250.00. Grower must reside and grow tea in the United States.

An Associate Member, has a voice, but no vote, and is board eligible as an Advisor. Associate Members will include, but are not limited to persons growing less than 25 plants, retailers, associated groups or trade organizations (one representative per organizations decided by the organization or group and registered/updated with the USLTG annually), bloggers, US tea enthusiasts, and international tea growing supporters.   Annual membership fee is $25.00. This member can reside outside the United States.


Why Join The USLTG At The Founder’s Level?

Founding FathersAs you’ve heard by now, the USLTG is now accepting members! There are four levels to choose from and we are excited to unveil the Founder’s Level ($1000.00/one time payment) for a limited time only!

  • First, and foremost, a member at this level will be confident in knowing that they are providing the USLTG with the much needed funds to accomplish our mission.
  • You will be publicly demonstrating your faith and confidence in the bright future of US tea growing.
  • As a Founder, you can be either a Full Member (growers), an Associate Member, or Supplier (this includes our international tea growing supporters).
  • Founding members will be presented with a plaque of recognition that can be displayed proudly in your place of business…or on your tractor.
  • Founding members will be featured on our “Founding Members” webpage and will be mentioned in USLTG newsletters, emails and media releases throughout the year.
  • Founding members will be provided with a digital “Stamp of Membership” that can be used on marketing materials, websites, and print items.
  • Companies joining at the Founder’s Level will have one named representative per payment. This nomination will be transferable upon written notice to the USLTG.
  • Founder’s level membership will only be available until March 31, 2017.

We welcome any questions you might have about the Founder’s Level, or membership within the league in general. For more information, please contact Josephie Dean Jackson, Membership Chair, at jdj@eastexastea.com!