More than 40 people joined us on January 25th at Santana Lepe Orchards in Livingston, California. Juan Santana opened up the event sharing his inspiring story of how he is increasing the diversity on his farm with hedgerows, compost and cover crops to improve pest control and pollination, create healthy soils and build a more resilient farm system. He described planting 2/3rds of a mile of hedgerows around his 77 acres of almonds as part of CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program, with WFA’s assistance. Throughout the morning, he encouraged grower participants to try planting a hedgerow.
Other speakers covered the following topics:
Better Pest Control–Rachael Long (UC Farm Advisor) shared how natural enemy insects will move up to 300 feet out from a hedgerow into a crop, giving farmers better pest control. In her studies, she found a 6- to 8-fold increase in natural enemy control of pest insects which resulted in fewer pesticide sprays. Rachael also described how hedgerows displace weedy areas that typically support many types of pest insects.
Arboreal Birds Do their Part–Jo Ann Baumgartner (WFA) related how many insectivorous birds like the Oak Titmouse which she has seen in Juan’s orchards have evolved to hunt for food in trees, and can help with pest control especially during the nesting season when they feed 1,000s of insects to their young. Birds like these are known to reduce Navel Orange Worms .But omnivorous birds can also help; while they can eat some nuts before harvest, Juan has seen Crows and Magpies eating the mummy nuts high in the trees after the harvest where the shakers aren’t as effective at dropping them. Mummy nuts must be removed because they can harbor pests and disease. One study found a substantial net benefit of these avian mummy nut eaters.
Bees Hedging their Bets–Billy Synk (Pollinator Partnership) described how bees are always ‘hedging’ their bets–checking what floral resources are nearby in case the crop’s flowers dry up. He went on to share that while cover crops are great for supporting bees in the spring, it is the hedgerow that carries the pollinators through the summer and fall. When diverse floral resources are present, both native bees and honeybees communicate better, have lower pathogen levels and longer survivability, and there are more of them which means there is more of a chance for pollination.
Keeping Crops “Clean” Misses the Point–Martin Guerena (National Center for Appropriate Technology) discussed how keeping crops “clean” misses out on ecosystem services. Martin has been assisting Juan with tracking the benefits of his compost applications and cover crop plantings. Juan’s fertilizer needs have decreased while his yields have increased. Lab tests show the soil is improving. He is increasing the biomass and suppressing weeds. Below ground root penetration is increasing, microbial populations are taking nutrition into the plant and nematode and disease suppression is occurring.
Paying for Your Habitat–Shelly Connor (WFA) described how farmers can apply for funding and technical assistance to install on-farm habitat such as hedgerows, riparian buffers and cover crops (among other climate smart agricultural practices) through CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program (HSP). WFA has served as a technical assistance provider for the last three years, helping growers across the state plan and install hedgerows and riparian buffers. WFA hopes to continue in this role when the next round of funding becomes available later this year.
Long Term Farm Diversity–Cindy Lashbrook (Riverdance Farm) shared her years of experience diversifying a farm, from planting a hedgerow that serves as a wildlife corridor, to paying attention to the differences between where to install the wetter riparian plants versus drier upland ones. She also discussed placing bat houses, Kestrel and Wood Duck nest boxes, and how she would like to see more farmer events like these, where farmers can get together to share their ideas!
Hedgerows Forever–Sam Earnshaw (Hedgerows Unlimited) discussed how hedgerows have many functions, and that planting a diversity of plants ensures blooming periods that provide nectar and pollen all 12 months of the year. As we walked the one-year old hedgerow with signs that identified the plants, he described the techniques used to plant the hedgerow, and the individual plants characteristics that make them good selections. He also pointed out the hedgerow looked very healthy and that Juan was paying close attention to its needs, monitoring to make sure it got proper watering and weeding.
While at this event, we also interviewed Juan Santana and Rachael Long, UC Farm Advisor, for the first in a new series about how natural enemy habitat on farms can support pest control. We look forward to sharing the completed video with you later this year.