- Author: UC Statewide IPM Program
Various insects, birds, and other animals pollinate plants. Bees, especially honey bees, are the most vital for pollinating food crops. Many California crops rely on bees to pollinate their flowers and ensure a good yield of seeds, fruit, and nuts. Pesticides, especially insecticides, can harm bees if they are applied or allowed to drift to plants that are flowering.
Our mission at the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources (UC ANR), Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) is to protect the environment by reducing risks caused by pest management practices. UC IPM developed Bee Precaution Pesticide Ratings to help pest managers make an informed decision about how to protect bees when choosing or applying pesticides. You can find and compare ratings for pesticide active ingredients including acaricides (miticides), bactericides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides, and select the one posing the least harm to bees.
Ratings fall into three categories. Red, or rated I, pesticides should not be applied or allowed to drift to plants that are flowering. Plants include the crop AND nearby weeds. Yellow, or rated II, pesticides should not be applied or allowed to drift to plants that are flowering, except when the application is made between sunset and midnight if allowed by the pesticide label and regulations. Finally, green, or rated III, pesticides have no bee precautions, except when required by the pesticide label or regulations. Pesticide users must follow the product directions for handling and use and take at least the minimum precautions required by the pesticide label and regulations.
A group of bee experts in California, Oregon, and Washington worked with UC IPM to develop the Bee Precaution Pesticide Ratings. They reviewed studies published in scientific journals and summary reports from European and United States pesticide regulatory agencies. While the protection statements on the pesticide labels were taken into account when determining the ratings, it is important to stress that UC IPM's ratings are not the pollinator protection statements on the pesticide labels. In a number of cases, the ratings suggest a more protective action than the pesticide label.
The UC IPM ratings also include active ingredients that may not be registered in your state; please follow local regulations. In California, the suggested use of the bee precaution pesticide ratings is in conjunction with UC Pest Management Guidelines (for commercial agriculture) and Pest Notes (for gardeners). Each crop in the UC Pest Management Guidelines has a link to the Bee Precaution Pesticide Ratings database and provides guidance on how to reduce bee poisoning from pesticides.
“According to a UC Berkeley news report,about one-third of the value of California agriculture comes from pollinator-dependent crops, representing a net value of $11.7 billion per year.”
Biological control of Phytophthora cinnamomi in avocadothrough the use of mulches was identified by an Australian grower and later described as the "Ashburner Method" by Broadbent and Baker. The technique uses large amounts of organic matter as a mulch along with a source of calcium. Control of avocado root rot in the Ashburner method was attributed to the presence of Pseudomonas bacteria and Actinomycetes. Multiple antagonists are more likely the cause of biological control, since no single organism has been found to be consistently associated with soils suppressive to P. cinnamomi.
The use of organic mulches has multiple effects, such as altered soil nutrient and water status and improved physical structure. Any improvements in plant status resulting from improvements in the growing environment can improve plant health. The effect of organic amendments on soil physical and chemical properties can vary considerably depending on soil texture and the environment. One of the most consistent effects of organic amendments is an increase in biological activity. Increases in organic substrate lead to increased fungal and bacterial populations. In numerous cases, this increase in biomass has been associated with disease suppression. This biological control can be ascribed to several mechanisms: competition, antibiosis, parasitism, predation and induced resistance in the plant.
The microbial biomass is responsible for release of enzyme products and polysaccharides in soils. The microbially-produced enzymes cellulase and glucanase have been demonstrated to have a significant effect on Phytophthora populations. This mechanism of antibiosis is possible because the microbes are releasing these enzymes to solubilize organic matter. Unlike other fungi, Phytophthora have cell walls that are comprised of cellulose and in the process of decomposing organic matter with enzymes, an environment is created that is also hostile to the pathogen.
In order to see if there might be potential differences in organic materials being better at combating avocado root rot, a little field trial was established with 23 different types of materials (see types on Graphs 1 and 2). The mulch materials were obtained from nearby hedges and chipped or obtained from commercial sources of mulch. Some of these materials would be difficult to get in large amounts, such as manuka (Leptospermum scoparium), but others are commercially available chipped greenwaste. The materials were then spread on the ground to a depth of five inches, in separate plots that were 36 X 36 inch squares. Decomposition was measured over a two year period and then cellulase was measured in the mulch, at the soil / mulch interface and at a two inch depth in the soil at the end of 2 years.
Since cellulase production is part of the decomposition process, the rate of decomposition should be a partial indicator of the amount of cellulase present. Graph 1 shows the depths of various materials at the site after one and two years of decomposition. After a mulch application there is generally settling due to rainfall-caused compaction, but much of the decline by the second year is due exclusively to decomposition. The more recalcitrant materials, such as bark, wood chips and sawdust have barely lost half their depth after two years, while others such as shredded eucalyptus, manuka, avocado and willow are less than 20% of their initial depth. Much of the shredded/chipped material, such as eucalyptus had a significant fraction of leaves in the mulch. The wool disappeared a little after one year. The greenwaste + chicken manure compost is nearly the same depth as the wood chips, since it is a material that had gone through a decomposition process prior to its application and much of the easily digestible materials had already been decomposed.
The rate of decomposition has some bearing on the rate of cellulase production (Graph 2). Eucalyptus and manuka had the two greatest rates of decomposition and show the highest levels of cellulase production. The cellulase levels were consistent with all the different mulch materials. Using decomposition rate alone is not a complete indicator of cellulase production since, poplar, willow and avocado had high rates of decomposition, but their cellulase rates were half those of manuka and eucalyptus
It is clear that the cellulase effect is limited to the layer of mulch and not to depth within the soil. There is some effect at the soil surface, but at 5 cm. cellulase activity drops to background levels (Graph 2). There is earthworm activity at the test sites and one idea was that earthworm incorporation of organic matter would move the cellulase production into the soil. Maybe with further time this would occur. As it is, when mulches are applied to avocado, the roots tend to proliferate in the mulch, out of the soil where the cellulase activity is the least.
Something to keep in mind is that we do not know what levels of cellulase are necessary to control the root rot fungus. It may be that levels seen with pine bark are more than adequate. Also we have measured cellulase production at only one time in a two-year period and it is quite likely that this is not the best snapshot of what is happening before and after. A further reminder is that cellulase is only one of the many by-products associated with decomposition and many of the antagonistic properties that are associated with the microbial biomass are not being measured in this trial. Having developed this screening procedure what needs to be done next is to take high, medium and low cellulase producing mulches and challenge the fungus to verify that this is a good way to evaluate mulches.
A call from a small grower, surprised at the sudden decline of the avocado trees. It must be a disease was the grower's thought. Well driving up to the site, there were numerous trees with canopies indicating drought stress. In fact most of the trees looked like they had had the water turned off. When I got to the orchard, all the trees had a similar look (see photo below). The fringe of the canopy had turned brown/red where the leaves had collapsed rapidly, while the interior leaves were often still green. All the trees had a similar cast. It turns out the water district had required a cutback just when temperatures were going into the 100's. NO water, no cooling effect of transpiration and the outer fringe of leaves collapsed. This is called the “clothesline” effect. It's like a sheet on a clothesline where the margins of the sheet dry first and gradually the body of the sheet dries. The same thing happens in a canopy. The outside leaves are the first to dry out and then the rest of the canopy goes. When you see a whole orchard go down suddenly, that does not fit into a disease pattern. There's usually an epicenter where it starts – where it's colder, wetter, dryer, hotter, more overgrown, etc. and spreads out from there if it is going to spread. It turns out that the automatic irrigation system had gone down and the grower hadn't noticed until too late. When you see reddish tinged leaves, it means the leaves went down fast. When they are brown, it means they slowly went down over weeks or months.
With all the dead points in the tree, it is now open to disease – twig/leaf blight caused by one of the Botryosphaerias. These decay fungi are everywhere in an orchard decaying organic material on the orchard floor. With the dead material in the tree, now the tree becomes a potential feast for the fungi. The dead stuff has to come out, or the fungus will start eating into the tree. I suggested that instead of pruning out all those little points of death, that they cut back the whole canopy to major scaffold branches. In doing so, it would rapidly and cheaply remove the dead material and reduce the water demand.
At a recent meeting the question came up about the fate of nitrogen fertilizer applied through the irrigation system. If it is applied as urea, how long does it take to convert it to nitrate? If applied as ammonium, how long does it take to convert to nitrate? Urea and nitrate pretty much move wherever water moves and is very susceptible to leaching. Because of the positive charge on ammonium, it is not as mobile as nitrate, but once bacteria transform it to nitrate, it moves with water.
This is an important question, since if more water is applied than is needed by the plant, the nitrate is going to move out of the root system and no longer be available to the plant and ends up heading to ground water. Reading the literature, growers get the sense that all this transformation takes time, maybe a long time.
It turns out that soils in coastal California have a pretty rapid conversion of nitrogen. Francis Broadbent at UC Davis did a bunch of studies back in the 1950's and 60's and found enzyme hydrolysis of urea to ammonium occurring within hours. Other researchers have looked at nitrification, the conversion of ammonium to nitrate by soil bacteria, occurring within days and much of the conversion occurring within a week depending on soil temperature (see chart below).
So there is all this nitrate present and the key is what happens to it. It turns out that most plants when actively growing absorb nitrate at about 5 pounds of nitrogen per day. So with a 100% efficiency, applying 20 pounds of nitrogen, all of it would be taken up in four days. Of course, nothing in nature is that efficient. But the point is a big slug of nitrogen applied is not going to be taken up immediately and if more water is applied after that than is needed by the crop, it likely is pushed out of the avocado root zone.
Of course all the nitrogen a plant uses does not come from applied fertilizer. The bulk is coming from soil organic matter that is slowly decomposing. This nitrogen is being released at a rate that is probably in balance with the growth of the tree.
The applied fertilizer, however, is much more unstable and needs to be handled accordingly. The rule of thumb is to break the irrigation application into thirds. In the first third, run the irrigation to fill the lines and wet the soil. In the second third, run the fertilizer. This spreads it through the system and onto the ground. The last third is clear the irrigation system of the material and to move the fertilizer into the root zone. Then given time, the tree will take up the applied nitrogen. At the next irrigation then the bulk of that nitrogen will have been taken up and little will be pushed through the root system.
Low and High Nitrogen Avocado Leaves
Chart showing rapid conversion to nitrate with soil temperature
Avocado is a tree that has a good ability to respond to fire damage, if it is not too extensive. However, often a tree will recover only to collapse later on in the year or years because of the damage. So a tree may appear to do well and then suddenly collapse. In an orchard setting, fire damage can kill one tree completely, whereas the one just beside it recovers completely. This poses a major problem with irrigation management. How to irrigate the slowly regenerating tree that gradually needs more water, less frequently, next to trees that are recovering at a different rate or not at all. This becomes a management nightmare. Often the result of the difficulty of water management, the remaining trees develop root rot and they eventually die from that and not the original fire damage.
There is a general rule of thumb I have learned and used – when more than 50% of the trees have succumbed, it is best to replace the whole orchard. This is due to the issues of irrigation management and the loss of return from the unused portion of the grove.
So, from a pure economic management aspect, where there is any fire damage, that area should be considered a loss. If you look at your aerial survey and just measure the areas that show fire damage and take that as a proportion of the total planted area, you should be able to assess the extent of the damage incurred in the fire. So measuring the brown areas relative to green should give you a good assessment of the damage incurred in the fire.
It may be possible to nurse back individual trees with a lot of attention and if it's a small enough area, go ahead. But on commercial scale of acres, it often doesn't pay from a management point of view to nurse the orchard to an economic production level.