Permanent crops like vineyards and orchards are the fastest growing category of agricultural production in California’s Central Valley, totaling over 3 million acres.
While many growers in this region are already using standard conservation practices like conservation tillage and efficient nutrient management, there is still untapped conservation potential in the underutilized spaces on orchard floors and on the edges of fields.
A new report from EDF — Managing Vegetation for Agronomic and Ecological Benefits in California Nut Orchards [PDF] — describes opportunities for orchard growers to support a more sustainable agricultural system by planting and managing vegetation in these underutilized spaces, ultimately delivering a variety of benefits to the farm and broader community.
- Managed vegetation can help build agricultural and environmental resilience. Practices like planting diverse cover crops on orchard floors can have a variety of benefits including reduced soil erosion and habitat for native birds, pollinators and insects that help control pests.
- Certain plant species can provide customized benefits to each operation. Different plant species will impact the orchard in different ways. The ideal vegetation strategy will depend on site-specific characteristics and each grower’s objectives.
- Perceived concerns pose barriers to entry for many growers but can be overcome. Surveyed growers expressed concern that implementing managed vegetation could have high upfront costs and would potentially attract undesirable outcomes like pests and frost risk. However, growers are finding that these risks are lower than anticipated and more often experience benefits from managed vegetation. These and other perceived barriers can be overcome through increased communication with growers.
- Technical guidance is critical for adoption of conservation practices. To strategically increase adoption, it is essential to tap into influential grower networks and peer-to-peer networks to build community support for conservation practices. Pest control advisors, certified crop advisors and cooperative extension agents can play a critical role in helping growers adopt conservation practices by suggesting managed vegetation strategies specific to the circumstances of each client.
- The full benefits of managed vegetation have yet to be realized. Although there is increasing interest in the benefits of managed vegetation, there is still much to learn. While research continues, there is enough evidence to know that any efforts in managing vegetation in tree crops have great potential to deliver some level of agronomic and ecological benefits.