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Peach twig borer next to damage. Credit all images to University of California Regents.

Climate Change to Drive Surge in Insects That Attack Almonds, Peaches, Walnuts

Guest Author
Pamela Kan-Rice, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources

The Extension, Education & USDA Climate Hubs Partnership is part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) portfolio. It supports projects developing effective and scalable approaches to address climate change through regional partnerships. 

This article first appeared on the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources website and is reprinted with permission.

As a result of climate change, California’s farms are expected to face a surge in agricultural pests, which poses a threat to the state's specialty crops industry.

Oriental fruit moth. Image courtesy of University of California Regents
Oriental fruit moth. Image courtesy of University of California Regents. 

Populations of three major insect pests – codling moth, peach twig borer and oriental fruit moth — are projected to increase mainly due to rising temperatures, according to a study recently published in the journal “Science of the Total Environment” by a team of researchers at University of California (UC) Agriculture and Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture California Climate Hub.

“These three pests are notorious for infesting most of the walnut, almond and peach orchards of California, causing extensive damages by reducing quality of fruits and nuts,” said study co-author Jhalendra Rijal, UC Cooperative Extension integrated pest management advisor and entomologist for Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.

Climate change can lead to shifts in the timing of seasons, including warmer winters, earlier springs and hotter summers, and these conditions can disrupt the natural life cycles of pests.

The California research is supported in part by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. NIFA National Program Leader Dr. Amy Ganguli said the California project is a strong example of the work being done through AFRI’s Extension, Education & USDA Climate Hubs Partnership.

“A key element of this grant program is to link critical research findings like this with timely education and outreach efforts to producers and the public to encourage nimble responses to the challenges climate change pose,” Ganguli said.

Peach twig borer. Image courtesy of University of California Regents
Peach twig borer. Image courtesy of University of California Regents.

The new research, led by Prakash Jha, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources assistant project scientist based at UC Merced, compared pest populations in recent and future climates. The scientists used temperature projections from the latest generations of scientific models to predict the potential impact of climate change on codling moth (Cydia pomonella), peach twig borer (Anarsia lineatella) and oriental fruit moth (Grapholita molesta). 

Before using the model, the model predictions were verified using field data of these insect pests from various parts of the Central Valley.

The UC study revealed that due to increases in temperature, these insects are expected to appear up to 28 days earlier in the spring and the time between generations is expected to shorten by up to 19 days. The changes may be gradual, but the study predicts that we may see up to a half-generation of these pests added within the next 20 to 30 years.

The increase in these pest populations poses a serious threat for future pest management, which would subsequently affect the state's economy and employment related to specialty crops, warns Rijal.

“Codling moth is the primary pest of California's walnuts, which occupies over 365,000 acres,” Rijal said. “Similarly, peach twig borer and oriental fruit moth are two major economic pests of peaches. Growers must control almost every generation of these pests to protect the fruit.

“Additional generations of these pests within the same growing season will likely increase crop damage. It certainly increases the number of sprays needed to control these pests, increasing the production cost for growers. Plus, more use of insecticides has consequences for beneficial insects and the environment.”

Growers may need to adapt their pest management strategies to address the impact of climate change on these pests. 
For years, the UC Integrated Pest Management guidelines have suggested putting oriental fruit moth traps out in peach orchards by Feb. 15 in the San Joaquin Valley and Feb. 20 in the Sacramento Valley.

“In the last seven years, likely due to warmer winter, as suggested in this study, we observed the beginning of the moth's activity in traps (also called biofix) as early as Feb. 14,” Rijal said, “meaning that the trap placement date must move earlier to capture the first moth activity. We are revising the guidelines to change the trap placement date to Feb. 7 for the entire Central Valley.”

Developing a holistic climate-smart pest management strategy will build resilience, Jha said. This approach combines pest control with prevention and reduction, such as planting pest-resistant crop varieties, sanitizing the orchards during the winter, harvesting early to avoid later pest generation infestation, using biological control such as natural enemies, and deploying mating disruption techniques.

“More importantly, adoption of pest forecasting – including the long-term prediction and short-term potential outbreak, pest-scouting and early detection – will be essential to combat the growing threat posed by these pests,” Jha said. 

Research will be crucial to provide growers support and guidance about the latest developments in pest management and how to adapt their practices.  

“Climate change impacts on pests and resulting impacts on agricultural production are significant but not often researched or quantified,” said Tapan Pathak, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in climate adaptation in agriculture based at UC Merced.

“Information from this research will not only help farmers to understand impacts for strategic planning, but also will inform the agricultural industry to invest in making varieties more resilient to these damaging agricultural pests,” Pathak added. “We will use this information to update the CalAgroClimate tool, which informs farmers on the progress of these pests during the season so that they can take steps for effective pest management.”

Ganguli added the partnership between the University of California and the California Climate Hub embodies the goal of this funding program.  

“The incorporation of this research into the existing CalAgroClimate decision support tool accelerates the ability of this information to be publicly used in the development of appropriate pest management or adaptation strategies,” she said.

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