Survey reveals avocado growers encouraging pollinators

Hass avocado flowering.

Hass avocado flowering.

A survey of avocado growers in the South West Region found that three-quarters of the 20 respondents encourage pollinators such as insects and birds onto their properties, mainly by maintaining ‘weeds’ in their inter-rows. Only 5 percent of those surveyed described their understanding of pollination of their crop as ‘poor’.

The survey is part of a 5-year project being undertaken by the South West Catchments Council (SWCC) which works with farmers to improve the pollination services provided by beneficial insects and other pollinators through revegetation programs that enhance food availability for pollinators.  Revegetation is designed to improve pollination services and biodiversity, ensuring the farm is more resilient and can better withstand the impacts of climate change.

SWCC Project Manager, Wendy Wilkins, who is working with avocado growers at Balingup and Winnejup, said the survey was designed to gauge producers’ current knowledge and attitudes to pollination and integrated pest management, remnant vegetation and revegetation and farm resilience.  The survey will be undertaken again at the end of the project to see if knowledge and attitudes have changed.

“The majority of respondents believe the key pollinator for avocados is the honeybee, although hoverflies and flies also appear to be considered important,” Ms Wilkins said.

“Nevertheless, only a tenth of the respondents bring honeybee hives into their orchards when their avocados are flowering for pollination services,” she said.

Seventy percent of avocado producers surveyed also practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with the most common practice being assessing the number of pests prior to spraying and when numbers reach critical levels, using more selective sprays or predatory insects, such as ladybirds.

Almost three-quarters of respondents believe that remnant vegetation and vegetation is beneficial to production, with no survey participants saying it was detrimental. The main benefit listed was habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects followed by greater biodiversity and reduced wind and water erosion.  The main risks identified for vegetation were fire and as habitat for pest animals.

The large majority surveyed (80%) believe the changing climate is affecting how they farm, citing reduced rainfall, increased temperatures and hail affecting productivity.  The main strategies identified to deal with these changes related to accessing more water sources and water conservation.  In fact, 90 percent of respondents have implemented water conservation strategies, particularly using mulch and soil moisture instruments. The majority have also diversified their income streams to spread their risk.

“We’re very grateful to those who undertook this survey during the busy harvest season. Growers were incredibly generous with their time,” Ms Wilkins said, “and it’s heartening to know that producers are interested in our work and I look forward to sharing our findings from the project with them,” she concluded.

You can read more about the Pollinator Project here.

This project is supported by the South West Catchments Council with funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

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