What is in this article?:
Wine grape grower Phil LaRocca of Forest Ranch, Calif., almond producer Chris Baugher of Orland, Calif., and the rice growing Lundberg family of Richvale, Calif., were organic farmers long before they knew they were trendy.
Beneficial pest predators
Organic farming can be more challenging with lower yields than conventional, especially in almonds where there is a sweep net of potentially damaging pests from spider mites to worms.
Baugher meets those challenges with what he calls “biodiversity of the orchard floor. We want to keep it full of beneficials like preying mantis, lacewing and ladybird beetles,” he said.
“People who come to watch the harvest are amazed at the number of preying mantis … they are everywhere.”
The introduction of beneficial pest predators is common in California agriculture, both conventional and organically. There are a number of insectaries which supply beneficials.
Baugher has been successful fending off navel orangeworm (NOW), one of the most challenging insects in almonds because it can attack at hull-split and cause major nutmeat rejects. Baugher said he has never had rejects above 2.4 percent. He does not remove mummies, either.
Fertility is the biggest challenge in organic farming since many of California’s soils are low in organic matter. Baugher makes 1,000 tons of compost each year from hulls and shells, leaves and grass clippings collected by the city of Orland and manure left behind from livestock events held at the local fairgrounds.
“The heart and soul of organic farming is compost,” he said.
LaRocca uses 300 to 350 tons of compost each year for soil nutrients in three different vineyards. He splits the compost between winter and fall applications. He farms about 200 acres of varietals he ferments and bottles at the family’s winery. He bottles the wine without sulfites.
Cover crops are permanent and mostly legumes, said LaRocca. Sour clover is one of his favorite cover crops, but it is expensive and often difficult to find. He disks down cover crops before frost season. He takes soil samples every three years to evaluate nutrients.
He foliar feeds his vines and uses kelp when he applies sulfur for powdery mildew control. Foliar calcium, he said, enhances the grape set. Sulfur, one of the most widely used products for powdery mildew control, is organically approved.
So far he has not faced major pest issues besides occasional armyworms he knocks down with organically approved Bt insecticides. He uses kaolin (the main ingredient in Surround) to knock down leafhoppers. It coats leaves and prevents feeding.
“Leafhoppers are tough to deal with, but I have never been wiped out by them” LaRocca said.
Predator mites keep spider mites under control.