Seventh-generation farmer Chris Locke of Locke Ranch Inc., knows what it means to be green. Because of his eco-friendly efforts, Locke Ranch has earned a 2007 Integrated Pest Management Innovator Award from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).
Since 1994, DPR has given out more than 100 Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovator awards to honor California organizations that emphasize pest prevention, favor least-hazardous pest control, and share their successful strategies with others.
“We couldn’t ask for a better example of a farmer who walks the IPM walk and talks the IPM talk,” says DPR Director Mary-Ann Warmerdam. “Chris Locke demonstrates the true value of agricultural environmentalism.”
Locke Ranch set root in 1850 and today grows 580 acres of walnuts next to the Mokelumne River in Lockeford, Calif. Three years ago, Locke volunteered to let University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) scientists use his entire acreage to test pheromone mating disruption to control codling moth. The UC Statewide IPM Program funded this research with additional funding from the Western IPM Center.
"The successes and benefits of smaller scale testing that started in 1998 on portions of his ranch had convinced Chris that mating disruption was a reliable foundation for building a sustainable IPM program," says UCCE San Joaquin County Farm Advisor Joe Grant, who was involved in the research. “Chris was an innovator long before he partnered with us to find and validate softer and more holistic approaches to orchard IPM. We could not have made the progress we have without his cooperation.”
Grant's research partner, Carolyn Pickel, acting associate director for agricultural IPM for the UC Statewide IPM Program, says, "It's important that growers who are willing to take the risk, to step out of their comfort zone and try new ways of doing things, are recognized for their contributions."
In field trials, entomologists used "puffers," or pressurized aerosol cans filled with pheromones that are chemical compounds insects release to attract mates. These cans dispense metered puffs into the orchard air at fixed time intervals and disrupt mating by making it more difficult for male codling moths to locate females. "Field results showed good control of codling moth with fewer needed insecticide applications and an increase in beneficial insects that control other orchard pests," says Grant. "For example, pests such as mites have been under control for the last 10 years due to an increased abundance of mite predators."
Locke also has hosted Biologically Integrated Orchard System field days and UCCE field days on cover crops, owls, tree planting techniques, and practices to control crown gall.
In addition, he has worked with East Bay Municipal Utilities District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and other agencies on best management practices and habitat restoration projects. Locke has even converted his walnut processing shed to solar power to save on energy costs, and he uses bio diesel (a cleaner burning fuel) in all his vehicles.
Locke involved his community on his ranch by having area high school students help plant a hedgerow to attract beneficial insects. Locke Ranch also has bat houses to attract insect-eating bats. Owl boxes house rodent-eating barn owls, cover crops are used to add organic matter to the orchard, and fish emulsion is injected through the sprinkler system to supply nutrients—all for the good of the environment.
Locke will be recognized at an award presentation ceremony on Jan. 17 at the California Environmental Protection Agency headquarters building at 1001 I Street in Sacramento.