Orchard takes ‘natural’ path to pest control

The harvest season of 2009 was not a good one for Junell and Jerry Wentz. There wasn’t a market for their high-quality cherries that year, and they would have lost money by picking the fruit, so they left it to rot on the trees and fall to the ground.

Unfortunately, all of that fruit sowed the seeds for an unwelcomed bumper crop of mice, pocket gophers and voles the next spring.

Key Points

A Wenatchee, Wash., orchardist uses alternative rodent control.

NRCS offers cost-sharing programs for such efforts.

The grower claims she is saving money using the IPM methods.

And because the small, furry rodents could quickly inflict serious damage to their Wenatchee, Wash., cherry orchard, they needed a solution — and fast.

Pesky rodents

Rodents can be incredibly destructive, burrowing underground and feeding on trees’ root system. And since they’re hidden from the naked eye, the only way to spot them is by knowing the signs: small mounds of dirt surrounding trees. Once rodents infest an orchard, fruit trees can be damaged beyond repair, giving orchard owners no choice but to remove their plantings.

Most growers use pesticide pellets to control rodent populations. But Junell Wentz, who has slowly taken over management of her and her husband’s farm in the last 15 years, wanted a smarter, cheaper and more natural solution.

Wentz had heard about the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environ-mental Quality Incentives Program through a Farm Service Agency newsletter.

By working with NRCS, Wentz was able to get the funding, technical assistance and information to begin controlling the rodent population on her farm in a more natural way.

“To me it was like, ‘It’s a great idea. I get help for funding and get to make a better environment for my orchard with less time and less money.’ There are no losses as far as I can see. Any farmer that doesn’t take advantage of this is missing out,” says Wentz of the EQIP.

Oatmeal and plaster

To control the rodent population on her farm, Wentz uses a combination of oatmeal mixed with plaster of Paris, housed within PVC bait stations placed strategically throughout her farm. This mixture helps eliminate the rodents but does not harm any other wildlife, including predatory birds and household pets.

Now Wentz is taking pest management to the next level by building a barn owl box, kestrel box and a perch pole — all with the help of NRCS.

Inviting predatory birds such as barn owls, red tail hawks and kestrels onto her farm allows nature to take its course through Integrated Pest Management.

Wentz also works with the nonprofit Northwest Spirit Wildlife, which released six young barn owls on her farm in spring.

By providing them with an initial diet of lab mice and giving them a place to live, the owls have already made the Wentz farm their home, helping control the rodent population and saving countless dollars.

“It’s smarter. We’re saving money,” Wentz says. “Having struggled financially in the past with our orchard, every dime counts. It keeps us here and allows us to do this.”

Van Eps is with public affairs for the Washington NRCS.


OWL WISE: Wenatchee, Wash., cherry orchardist Junell Wentz has made friends with this owl, which helps control rodents that infest her tree rows.

This article published in the August, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.