Ecological Pest Management

We work with farmers, pest control advisors, researchers, and technical assistance providers to investigate, demonstrate, and promote ecological pest management practices.


Ecological pest management focuses on whole system management approaches that are preventative rather than reactive. The foundation of these practices is understanding the life cycles and behaviors of pests, and providing an expansive toolbox for growers to tackle these pests. These approaches include monitoring pests and beneficial insects, promoting biodiversity, reducing detrimental impacts to biodiversity, and prioritizing alternative pest control methods that are selective, low-risk, and effective. There are a variety of biological, cultural, and mechanical control methods that can be used in conjunction to enhance natural pest control and reduce reliance on broad-spectrum pesticides.

On-the-Ground Projects

Working directly with farmers, we conduct on-farm trials to implement and demonstrate targeted ecological pest management practices. Through pest monitoring data collection and continuous collaboration with our farming partners, we bring together the scientific research with farmer experience to learn, innovate, and optimize ecological pest management practices and systems.

Optimizing spider mite management through biological control in walnuts and vineyards

Web-spinning spider mites are devastating pests in many cropping systems throughout California. This project will collaborate with growers, researchers, and technical assistance providers to investigate, demonstrate and promote the use of integrated biological control for the management of spider mites. Through collaborative on-farm research in walnut and winegrape cropping systems in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley, the project will investigate the efficacy of predatory mite releases, predator attractants, and predator food sprays to promote beneficial insect populations in the field.

Learn more about CAFF’s Biological Control Project >>

Alternative management of codling moth, navel orangeworm, and web-spinning spider mites in walnuts

The Biologically Integrated Orchard System (BIOS) Program broadly focuses on creating whole system management approaches that are economical and reduce reliance on broad-spectrum insecticides, while promoting knowledge-sharing communities of farmers, pest control advisors, and UC Cooperative Extension. The BIOS project focuses on walnut production systems in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys and targets three important pests: codling moth (CM), navel orangeworm (NOW), and web-spinning spider mites.

Learn more about CAFF’s BIOS Project >>

Improving Treatment Decisions for Navel Orangeworm in Walnuts

Navel orangeworm (NOW) is an increasingly problematic pest in nut crops due to the damage they cause through feeding directly on the nut kernels. The EPM team collaborated with the California Walnut Board, USDA, and UC Cooperative Extension to examine the behaviors of and improve monitoring for NOW in walnut orchards. This involved trials of a novel pseudo-acoustic monitoring device that identifies pests by their specific wing size and wingbeat frequency, as well as trials of mating disruption to investigate its effect on NOW female fertility and egg-laying behavior.

Learn more about monitoring for NOW >>

Current Practices of Focus

Ecological pest management is not a single practice nor is it part of a rigid methodology. Rather, it’s a holistic approach that includes a suite of practices that farms and ranches can employ based on their own unique needs and circumstances to help build biodiversity and biological control to reduce reliance on harsher pesticides. A few key practices the EPM program is currently focused on include the following:

Certain female arthropod pests attract males by emitting sex pheromones. Mating disruption uses synthetic pheromones to confuse males and prevent them from mating. This will decrease the reproductive success of the pest, eventually reducing its population. The synthetic pheromone used in mating disruption can be applied in sprayable liquid form, aerosol dispensers, or plastic strips dispensers. Mating disruption works best when used in concert with intensive monitoring, in-season fruit/nut sampling, and harvest damage assessments.

Learn more about the EPM Program’s work with Mating Disruption >>

Biological control is the method of controlling pests through the use of their natural enemies, which include predators, pathogens, and parasitoids. These natural enemies can be introduced or augmented through many practices, such as releases of commercially-reared natural enemies, and the addition of favorable food sources and predator-attracting chemicals. Cover crops and insectary plantings can also provide sufficient habitat and food for natural enemies. When using biological control, it is important to avoid using pesticides with secondary impacts on natural enemy populations.

Learn more about the EPM Program’s work with Biological Control >>

A cover crop is a “non-economic” crop planted to benefit the cash crop by improving soil health, suppressing weeds, managing disease and nematodes, and increasing natural enemies. Cover crops can provide alternative resources, prey, and refuge to support a wide range of natural enemies such as predators and parasitoid insects and diseases. Since poor crop health and poor soil moisture can exacerbate pest damage, cover crops also help by increasing water infiltration and reducing dust.

Visit CAFF’s cover crops page >> 
Learn more about the EPM Program’s work with cover crops >>


We continually prioritize knowledge sharing between farmers and researchers, technical assistance providers, and other farmers. Through one-on-one meetings as well as field days, we regularly share the results of our on-farm research of these pest management practices. Farmers, PCAs, the BIOS team, and UCANR extension share their experiences with all kinds of IPM practices with other farmers through on-farm events, interviews, and online webinars.

Learn about past events >>

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Economic Analyses

For many growers, there is a concern about the costs and benefits of alternative practices. Our projects analyze the effectiveness of each alternative practice and the economic cost vs. benefit across our farms. This will allow farmers to determine the economic feasibility of adapting each practice and the costs associated with initiating the practice as an alternative to broad-spectrum insecticides.


BIOS Field Day at Locke Ranch

The Community Alliance with Family Farms (CAFF) held a Biologically Integrated Orchard System (BIOS) field day at Locke Ranch on May 23rd. Attendees were treated to a walk through the

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Hanna Kahl
Ecological Pest Management Program Specialist

Hanna oversees CAFF’s Ecological Pest Management program, which works with farmers, researchers and other agencies to investigate and promote ecological pest management throughout California. She is passionate about doing applied research to serve the need of local farmers. She has received a masters in Entomology at University of Maryland and is finishing a Ph.D. at UC Davis. Her research has focused on herbivory by earwigs in citrus, using living mulches to enhance beneficial insects, and the role of wolf spiders as cucumber beetle predators.



Miguel Alvarez
Ecological Pest Management Field Technician

Miguel supports the Ecological Pest Management Program through fieldwork and outreach. While working on his B.S. Agriculture with an emphasis in Crops and Horticulture degree from CSU, Chico, he immersed himself in Agricultural research in walnut, almond, olive oil and table olive production systems. Areas of focus have been in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as well as cultural practice manipulation to investigate the effects of canopy management on plant phenology (fruit set) and photosynthetic active radiation (PAR) interception.



Moet Takata
Ecological Pest Management Program Manager

Moet supports the Ecological Pest Management Program to help farmers implement and sustain ecological pest management practices through applied research and outreach. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor’s degree in Molecular Environmental Biology. During her time there, she participated in research on soil health in No-Till systems, and on biological control from parasitic wasps on urban farms. She is now based in the San Joaquin Valley.



Emma Centeno
Ecological Pest Management Field Technician

Emma supports data collection and one on one support for participating walnut and winegrape growers through the Biologically Integrated Farming Systems project. Before joining CAFF, Emma was a biologist in the plant health diagnostics lab at the California Seed and Plant Labs. Prior to that, Emma was a junior specialist in the Plant Pathology department at UC Davis specializing in processing tomatoes and Fusarium falciforme affecting cucurbits. Emma also has experience in urban forestry through her work with Tree Davis as an Urban Forestry Specialist. She received a BS in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems from the University of California, Davis.