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Preventing Rodents in Drip-Irrigated Strawberry Fields

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Rodents are a major concern for all strawberry growers, including those with drip irrigation systems. Pests like pocket gophers, moles, squirrels, and voles, when not properly managed, eat the plants and fruit, causing crop damage and yield loss. In addition to damaging the crop, some rodents attack drip tape – expensive and time-consuming to replace, giving growers who employ a drip irrigation strategy even more incentive to ward off rodents.

The good news is, it doesn’t take highly-innovative practices or a cutting-edge approach to control rodents in strawberry fields. In fact, most growers can be successful with heightened awareness and by implementing a few best practices. While strawberry growers do have the added consideration of food safety regulations to account for, there are still several steps they can take to control rodents, and prevent costly damages and yield loss.

Because there isn’t one, “magic” solution for controlling rodents, strawberry growers can build a good, integrated defense with these 10 tips.

Early Identification
The first line of defense in the war on rodents begins in the early stages of the growing season.

  1. Prior to planning, growers often fumigate fields to prevent disease. This practice can also help eliminate moles that feed on earthworms in the soil.
    *Note: Because of food safety regulations that go hand-in-hand with strawberry production, all growers need to check with the local Ag Commissioner for registered fumigants that are approved to use.
  2. Voles are drawn to areas around a strawberry field, too – particularly, overgrown fields and ditches, so it’s advised to eliminate excess weeds, ground cover, and growth.
  3. Organic fields tend to have more rodent activity, as soils have not been conventionally fumigated and fields are often surrounded by high vegetation areas. Rodents tend to damage drip tape as they search for water sources. If this happens, consider replacing 5 mil tape with a stronger tape, 12 mil thickness or more.

Control While You Grow

The bulk of rodent management activities take place throughout the growing season, on an ongoing basis.

  1. Be on the lookout for mounds, particularly, fan-shaped, and mole hills, as they’re the first sign a pocket gopher or mole has made its home.
  2. Upon identifying mounds and hills, set traps on both tunnel entrances.
  3. Growers can also destroy mole hills by stomping them but should take note if they’re rebuilt within a couple days. If so, the moles are active and more attention should be paid to the area
  4. Squirrels tend to be a bigger problem in the summer, when their spring food supplies are starting to run out. Because they tend to stay near perimeter fences, it’s recommended to run PVC pipe along a fence, and put bait inside the pipe

Timing and Timelines

Paying attention to seasonal factors and keeping track of efforts are the final keys to a quality rodent management plan.

  1. To best monitor and address issues now and in the future, keep details records of where and when damage occurs.
  2. It’s also advised to track the number of pests destroyed in given time periods, as the spikes will help to show when more attention is required.
  3. For winter-planted berries, the spring and summer seasons are both crucial times to take action and closely track efforts. For growers who plan in the summer, being proactive early in the fall season, all the way through end-of-harvest yields best results. 

There Is No Good Luck, Only Good Planning

One final piece of advice isn’t necessarily part of an ongoing program but is highly recommended – don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seek out the advice of fellow strawberry growers who operate drip systems, as well as rodent management experts and local extension agents.

With proper planning and ongoing best management practices, rodent threats can be minimized in strawberry fields with drip irrigation systems, allowing growers to enjoy the benefits of reduced water use and greater yields, leading to better water and resource use efficiency (WUE and RUE). 

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About The Author
Danilu Ramirez, CCA, PCA is a Water Quality Consultant for RDO Water in Santa Maria, CA.

Contact your local RDO Water store to learn more about drip irrigation, including full system design, installation, and support.

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