Avocado and Citrus Field Day at King & King Ranch

flyways wildways

Participants on the early morning bird walk at King & King Ranch.

In February 2024, nearly 100 field day participants gathered at King & King Ranch in Fillmore, CA to learn about pollinators and beneficial insects in avocado and citrus orchards. This bi-lingual field day was hosted by WFA and Ventura Resource Conservation District. The event was part of an in-person Ventura County gathering, held as part of Community Alliance with Family Farmers 36th annual Small Farmers Conference, where participants spent the morning at King & King Ranch and the afternoon at Rodale’s California Organic Center at McGrath Family Farm.

Bird Walk - A morning bird walk was led by Monica Matthews from the Ventura County RCD. On the walk, participants identified various species of birds around a hedgerow next to field crops and an avocado orchard. Monica emphasized the importance diversifying habitat on the farm to support a variety of birds that will provide pest control benefits.

Attracting Avocado Pollinators - Gordon Frankie of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources covered the best pollinators for growing avocados and how to attract them to the orchard to make the most out of this crop’s unusual pollination biology. He shared how native bees like sweat bees and carpenter bees are highly effective avocado pollinators, whereas honeybees are inefficient pollinators. More specific information on plants that support native pollinators can be found at the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab at www.helpabee.org.

Grower Insight from King & King Ranch - Guadalupe Rojas is a small farmer adjacent to the King and King property in Fillmore. He has had years of experience developing a regenerative system on his property. At the event, he reflected on his efforts to bring nutrients and a diversity of insects to his farm by experimenting with plants like fennel, cilantro, and fava bean. Patience and observation as a grower have taken him far in his ability to be aware of and support the beneficials on his farm and successfully grow crops without pesticides.

Plant Species that Optimize Arthropod Pest Biocontrol - Stephen Pryor of WFA discussed the best way to attract beneficial insects to orchards, including which arthropods to attract for pest mitigation and which plants are the best attractants. Minute Pirate Bugs, Tachinid Flies, Syrphid Flies, and predatory mites are a few key natural enemies that can help to reduce the most common pests in an orchard. He highlighted a variety of plants that will specifically benefit these natural enemies and that can be planted in hedgerows and interspersed throughout the orchard on the ends of rows, or where there is suitable light available. They include annual buckwheat that supports parasitoid wasps, hairy vetch that supports minute pirate bugs, and a dense ground cover composed of perennial grasses, diverse forbs that support predatory mites and thrips.

Habitat and Augmentative Biocontrol – Ron Whitehurst of Rincon-Vitova Insectaries discussed biocontrol in orchards, its ability to save farmers money and strategies to achieve it. He explained that installing habitat features such as flower strips and hedgerows is highly effective for biocontrol after releasing starter populations of predators and parasites. With additional food sources available, beneficial insects can live on for generations in the orchard. Ron shared the stage with farmer John Schoustra who has successfully implemented biocontrol by planting flower strips with mowable plants like Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathaceae), Zauschneria (Epilobium), Germander sage (Salvia chamaedryiodes), Telegraphweed (Heterotheca grandiflora, and yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

Promoting Ecosystem Services on Farms – Dr. Liz Scordato and her research team from Cal Polly Pomona (CPP), UC Santa Barbara (UCSB)and UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) have been cataloguing how wildlife moves between large habitat (like riparian corridors),  small transects of habitat (like hedgerows) and how farmers can harness this movement to attract beneficial wildlife onto their farm. The researchers found that a diverse farm habitat attracts birds that are insectivores throughout the year and have a gleaner type of foraging strategy, which is ideal for pest control in avocado and citrus farms. In addition, they found that hedgerows watered through drought have a longer blooming period that will maximize their IPM benefits. Their research is ongoing and more information about results can be found through the CPP, UCSB and UCSB programs.

Hedgerow Field Tour – Sam Earnshaw, Hedgerows Unlimited and Lan King of King & King Ranch closed the event with a tour of the newly installed hedgerow. The group walked through the orchard and up to the site, where they spoke about the hedgerow planting process and about the plants that were installed and their functions. Plants in the hedgerow were selected with a wide variety of flowering types to help support pollinators, birds, and natural enemies year-round.