Merced County Cooperative Extension
Merced County Cooperative Extension
Merced County Cooperative Extension
University of California
Merced County Cooperative Extension

Posts Tagged: IPM

Pitahaya/dragon fruit growers gather to learn from UCCE research and each other

At Wallace Ranch in Bonsall, Ramiro Lobo (right) demonstrates how to control pitahaya/dragon fruit leaves as they grow. All photos by Saoimanu Sope.

Once you know what a dragon fruit looks like, you will never forget it. The bright red, sometimes yellow or purple, scaly skin makes for a dramatic appearance. One that will surely leave an impression. The flesh ranges from white to a deep pink and the flavor is often described as having hints of kiwi, watermelon, or pear.

Dragon Delights Farm begins harvesting early in the morning and fill up several crates of pitahaya/dragon fruit.

Since 2007, the Pitahaya/Dragon Fruit Production Tour, has united dragon fruit growers of all levels and backgrounds. After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, registration for the 2022 tour filled up in less than 24 hours.

A group of 60 participants gathered Sept. 8 at the Wallace Ranch Dragon Fruit Farm in Bonsall to learn the latest research on growing the drought-tolerant specialty crop. Ramiro Lobo, a small farms and agricultural economics advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in San Diego County, introduced dragon fruit growers and other UC scientists. 

“I can't remember a year where this event was not sold out. So, the need and demand is there,” said Eyal Givon, a long-time participant and dragon fruit grower.

The tour not only demonstrates how to grow the fruit, but it also grants participants access to plant material for varieties that are unavailable elsewhere.

“We have given out about 50,000 cuttings through our festival and some varieties were unique to us because we introduced them to the U.S.,” said Lobo. 

During their time at Wallace Ranch, participants heard from the farm's owner, Neva Day, regarding the growing practices that have shaped her success today. Day has been growing organic dragon fruit since 2013 and has well over 5,000 plants on the ground and more than 20 varieties.

Kevin Brixey, owner of Dragon Delights Farm, shares his experience as a grower.
Eric Middleton, UCCE integrated pest management area advisor for San Diego County, talked about managing insects and pests that growers are likely to encounter such as Argentine ants. 

According to Middleton, Pecan Sandies are a balanced source of fat, protein, and sugar, making them excellent bait for the sugar-loving insects. 

Participants eventually made their way to Dragon Delights Farm located in Ramona. Kevin Brixey, the farm's owner, has been growing organic dragon fruit for six years.

Although Brixey was hosting this year's tour participants, he used to be one of them.

“I attended the Pitahaya Festival in 2014 and that's where I realized dragon fruit was something I could grow. There was a lot of good information being shared and a connection to other growers, so it was a major steppingstone for me,” he says.

Unlike traditional dragon fruit growers, Brixey uses shade to grow his dragon fruit after learning about the method from another grower. 

“I was impressed. I liked how the fruit performed under shade and now I use it as a management tool,” Brixey explained. In Inland Valleys, shade can shield fruit from intense sunlight and protect them from unwanted guests that eat the fruit, such as birds. 

To protect the fruit from insects and birds, the pitahaya/dragon fruits are covered with a mesh bag.

At the Farm Bureau of San Diego County offices, participants learned about the history of dragon fruit growing in California, food safety, pest management, best production practices and much more.

The presenters included experts like Paul Erickson from Rare Dragon Fruit, Lobo, Middleton, Johanna del Castillo from UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology and Ariana Reyes, a community education specialist from UCCE San Diego.

When reflecting on his time participating in the production tour, Givon, who has been growing dragon fruit for about 20 years and manages a 20-acre farm in Moorpark, said he enjoys reconnecting with other growers the most.

“What others are doing, might be better than what I'm doing,” Givon said. “Or what I'm doing, could be better than what someone else is doing. This time together is good for us to learn from each other.”

Lobo agreed with Givon and added, “I hope that these tours become self-sustained, and that we go back to a research field day at Southcoast REC with regional tours in San Diego and Ventura as we did before, or any other counties.”

The Pitahaya/Dragon Fruit Production Tour is an annual event hosted by UCCE San Diego. To learn more about UCCE San Diego events, visit https://cesandiego.ucanr.edu.

While at Wallace Ranch, Eric Middleton (center) explains how to effectively manage pests that are common to pitahaya/dragon fruits.
Posted on Monday, October 3, 2022 at 10:29 AM
Tags: Bonsall (1), Dragon Delights (1), dragon fruit (1), grower (1), IPM (3), organic (12), pitahaya (3), Ramona (1), San Diego (3), Wallace Ranch (1)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

The scent that could save California’s avocados

A close-up view of an avocado weevil, an elusive pest that spends most of its time deep inside a fruit. Photo by Mike Lewis, UC Riverside

Scientists search for pheromone to disrupt insect mating

UC Riverside scientists are on the hunt for a chemical that disrupts “evil” weevils' mating and could prevent them from destroying California's supply of avocados.

Avocado weevils, small beetles with long snouts, drill through fruit to lay eggs. The weevil grubs or larvae bore into avocado seeds to feed, rendering everyone's favorite toast topping inedible.

“They're extremely hard to control because they spend most of their time deep inside the fruit, where they're very well protected from insecticides and natural enemies,” said UCR researcher Mark Hoddle, a UC Cooperative Extension entomology specialist.

UCCE entomology specialist Mark Hoddle in Mexico, hunting avocado weevils. Photo by Mark Hoddle, UC Riverside

Not only are the insects reclusive, they are also understudied, making information about them hard to come by. “All books on avocado pest management will tell you these weevils are bad. They're well recognized, serious pests of avocados, but we know practically nothing about them,” Hoddle said.

One strategy for controlling pests is to introduce other insects that feed on them. However, that is unlikely to work in this case. “Natural enemies of these weevils seem to be extremely rare in areas where this pest is native,” Hoddle said.

To combat avocado weevils in Mexico, an area where they are native, and to prevent them from being accidentally introduced into California, Hoddle is working with Jocelyn Millar, a UCR insect pheromone expert. They are leading an effort to find the weevil's pheromone, with the goal of using it to monitor these pests and prevent them from mating in avocado orchards.

Pheromones are chemicals produced and released into the environment by an insect that can be “smelled” by others of its species, and affect their behavior.

“We could flood avocado orchards with so much pheromone that males and females can't find each other, and therefore can't reproduce,” Hoddle said. “This would reduce damage to fruit and enable growers to use less insecticides.”

Alternative control strategies could include mass trapping, using the pheromone as a lure, or an “attract-and-kill” approach, where the pheromone attracts the weevils to small sources of insecticide.

The work to identify, synthesize and test this pheromone in the field is supported by grants from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, as well as the California Avocado Commission.

An avocado damaged by the weevil. Photo by Mark Hoddle, UC Riverside

An initial phase of the project sent Hoddle to a base of operations three hours south of Mexico City, an area with large weevil populations. Using a special permit issued by the USDA, Hoddle brought weevils back to UCR's Insectary and Quarantine facility.

Hoddle and Sean Halloran, a UCR entomology researcher, captured the chemicals that avocado weevils release into the air. Possible pheromone compound formulas were identified from these crude extracts and are now being synthesized in Millar's laboratory.

“Weevil pheromones have complicated structures. When they're made in a lab, they can have left- or right-handed forms,” said Hoddle. Initially, Millar's group made a mixture of both forms to see if the blend would work as an attractant, as it is far cheaper to make the blend than the individual left- or right-handed forms.

Field work in Mexico with the pheromone cocktail by Hoddle, his wife Christina Hoddle, an associate specialist in entomology, and Mexican collaborators did not get a big response from the weevils, suggesting that one of the forms in the blend could be antagonizing the response to the other.

As the next step, the researchers plan to synthesize the individual forms of the chemicals and test the insects' response to each in Mexican avocado orchards.

Because the levels of avocado imports from Mexico are increasing, the risk of an accidental weevil invasion is rising as well. Hoddle is hopeful that the pheromone will be successfully identified and used to lower the risk this pest presents to California's avocado growers.

“We've been fortunate enough to be awarded these grants, so our work can be implemented in Mexico and benefit California at the same time,” Hoddle said. “The tools we develop now can be used to make sure crops from any exporting country are much safer to import into California.”

Posted on Wednesday, September 7, 2022 at 10:48 AM
  • Author: Jules Bernstein, UC Riverside
Tags: entomology (3), IPM (3), Mark Hoddle (3), pests (1), pheromone (1), UC Riverside (4), UCR (3), weevil (1)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Food, Pest Management

Food bloggers visit the birthplace of integrated pest management

The San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta is considered by local farmers to be the birthplace of integrated pest management, said Cathy Hemly of Green and Hemly farms on Randall Island.

"A group of pear growers, working with ag extension, came up with IPM," Hemly said.

Hemly shared the IPM history during a tour of the delta for the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC), held over the weekend in Sacramento.

Food bloggers gather for lunch under an ancient sycamore tree at the Elliott Pear Farm.

Hemly said about 50 years ago, pear farmers were faced with growing pest resistance to the pesticide glutathione, which was used routinely to control coddling moth.

"Growers got together with a team of UC scientists. They were the NASA engineers of their day," Hemly said. "We had to figure out a better way to monitor pests. The growers and the university got that started."

An emerging technology, confusing male coddling moth by releasing pheromones into the air, was showing promise. Protocols for using pheromone confusion were developed with the pear industry, Hemly said.

Harvested pears.

The relationship with the pear industry and UC Cooperative Extension continues to this day. The IFBC tour visited the  Randall Island pear farm of Richard Elliott and family. Son Rich Elliott said the family attends UC Cooperative Extension advisor Chuck Ingels' pear research meeting every year. Another son, Ryan Elliott, said fireblight is the biggest disease problem they deal with on the farm.

"Chuck Ingels comes by," Ryan Elliott said. "We learn a lot from him."

IFBC ended yesterday, but the organizers announced the conference will be back in Sacramento, scheduled for Sept. 29 - Oct. 1, 2017.

Farmer Richard Elliott, center, chats with food bloggers.
 
Ryan Elliott, left, and Richard Elliott, are the newest generation of farmers at the Elliott Pear Farm.

 

Posted on Monday, August 1, 2016 at 8:12 AM
Tags: IPM (3), Pears (1)

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