California Farmers Plant Hedgerows to Conserve Water, Improve Soil Health

Hedgerows improve water retention in the soil and create natural habitats for beneficial birds and other pest predators. Farmers said they add aesthetic value, too.
By Thomas Sechehaye
Oct. 31, 2023 18:35 UTC

Hedgerows, also known as liv­ing fences, pro­vide numer­ous ben­e­fits for farms and orchards in California. 

The California Healthy Soils Program funds cli­mate-friendly prac­tices, includ­ing plant­ing hedgerows, which have been found to improve car­bon seques­tra­tion, increase pol­li­na­tors, reduce ero­sion and water con­sump­tion and facil­i­tate insect man­age­ment. All of this reduces costs for olive farm­ers in a low-mar­gin indus­try.

Installing hedgerows along field edges sup­ports nat­ural enemy insects, ben­e­fi­cial birds for pest con­trol and pol­li­na­tors for increased pol­li­na­tion ser­vices.- Jo Ann Baumgartner, exec­u­tive direc­tor, Wild Farm Alliance

We have put in about 8 miles (13 kilo­me­ters) of native pol­li­na­tor hedgerows here on the farm-not imme­di­ately in the olives,” Don Cameron, the vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager at Terranova Ranch, told Olive Oil Times. 

I believe that any­thing we can do to increase the native pop­u­la­tion of native pol­li­na­tors not only ben­e­fits the olives but a wide range of other agri­cul­tural crops that are depen­dent on insect pol­li­na­tion,” he added.

See Also:CA Olive Farmers Embrace Regenerative Ag. to Combat Climate Challenges

Terranova Ranch grows var­i­ous crops, includ­ing olives for oil, fruit, veg­eta­bles, nuts and seeds in the San Joaquin Valley, with exten­sive expe­ri­ence grow­ing hedgerows in California.

We started with a healthy soils grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) about four years ago,” Cameron said. We applied for and received a grant for a half mile (0.3 kilo­me­ters) of native pol­li­na­tor hedgerows. We were able to extend the length to approx­i­mately 1 mile (0.6 kilo­me­ters).” 

Now, these plants are well estab­lished and pro­vide excel­lent habi­tat for native pol­li­na­tors along with a wide range of birds, snakes and other wildlife,” he added. We have an abun­dance of hum­ming­birds all sea­son, along with other species that have taken up res­i­dence here on the farm.”

Jo Ann Baumgartner, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Wild Farm Alliance (WFA), told Olive Oil Times that hedgerows pro­vide a range of ben­e­fits for farm­ers and the envi­ron­ment. 

Installing hedgerows along field edges sup­ports nat­ural enemy insects, ben­e­fi­cial birds for pest con­trol and pol­li­na­tors for increased pol­li­na­tion ser­vices,” she said.

Besides adding bio­di­ver­sity and beauty to the farm, the shrubs and trees within a hedgerow can also improve water qual­ity, pre­vent ero­sion and store sig­nif­i­cant amounts of car­bon in their tis­sues and the soil. 

Farmers turn to var­i­ous con­ser­va­tion agen­cies, gov­ern­ment, pri­vate and non-profit orga­ni­za­tions for help with hedgerows. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers a national pro­gram for farm­ers with tech­ni­cal assis­tance and fund­ing. 

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation pro­vides hedgerow kits, among their native plant species kits, for ranch­ers and farm­ers. WFA assis­tance helps farm­ers with the healthy soil pro­gram appli­ca­tion and part­ner­ing with local resources for hedgerow instal­la­tion.

Cameron noted that they worked exten­sively with Xerces to mon­i­tor species using the hedgerows and to add to their orig­i­nal plant­ing.

Olive grow­ers new to hedgerows can use proven best prac­tices for max­i­mum suc­cess. 

Make sure to install native plants, as they are well adapted to California cli­mates and ecosys­tems,” Baumgartner said. Native plants also bet­ter sup­port the native insect and bird species that have evolved to uti­lize them, whereas weedy, non-native plants can attract more pests.”


A diverse mix of native plants pro­vides a spread of flow­er­ing and fruit­ing peri­ods, pro­vid­ing food resources for ben­e­fi­cial species for most of the year. 

One hur­dle farm­ers can face is mak­ing enough time to care for a new hedgerow. The first year is crit­i­cal to suc­cess, so make it eas­ier by set­ting up the site for low main­te­nance by using mulch, ver­te­brate pro­tec­tion and a timer for irri­ga­tion,” Baumgartner said.

See Also:Precise Irrigation Key to Long-Term Productivity

Baumgartner offered prac­ti­cal tips for low main­te­nance. Add a 6‑inch (15-cen­time­ter) layer of mulch around the plants,” she said. This will help to smother weeds and retain mois­ture. Tree-cut­ting com­pa­nies will often deliver mulch for free.”

She also advised using cages or silt fence fab­ric to pro­tect against deer, rab­bits, gophers and ground squir­rels.


Baumgartner also empha­sized that irri­ga­tion effi­ciency is eas­ier with a timer. If a timer is not pos­si­ble, put plant­i­ngs on the same sys­tem as nearby crops so both are watered at the same time, mak­ing sure that they don’t receive fer­til­izer through that irri­ga­tion water; fer­til­izer makes the plants grow too fast and lodge over,” she said.

According to Cameron, fol­low­ing best prac­tices is espe­cially cru­cial in regions of California where hedgerows strug­gle to grow nat­u­rally. 

We have found that the orig­i­nal estab­lish­ment can be tricky as for our hedgerows and our cli­mate here in the San Joaquin Valley, the heat can cause dif­fi­culty estab­lish­ing small shrubs and other plant­i­ngs,” he said. 

Soil prepa­ra­tion, sea­sonal tim­ing, weed con­trol, and irri­ga­tion all influ­ence the suc­cess of plant­i­ngs. It takes work and care to make these projects work,” Cameron added.

On-farm habi­tat is an essen­tial indi­ca­tor of a healthy, resilient farm. People may mis­tak­enly believe that hedgerows will use pre­cious water resources and take away land that could be pro­duc­ing crops.

Baumgartner con­firmed the con­trary. Hedgerows only require irri­ga­tion in the first three years,” she said. After that, hedgerows’ deep roots help with infil­tra­tion and pre­vent runoff dur­ing times of excess rain.”

As for los­ing valu­able crop­land, tran­si­tion­ing land to per­ma­nent habi­tat helps increase yield in adja­cent crops, pre­vent­ing the loss of over­all crop yields,” Baumgartner added.


Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire, UK

According to the CDFA web­site, healthy soil improves plant health and crop yields and increases water reten­tion and infil­tra­tion. CDFA notes that healthy soil can hold up to 20 times its weight in water. Improving soil and con­trol­ling ero­sion is vital to main­tain­ing the integrity of the land, lev­ees and road­sides.

Once estab­lished, irri­ga­tion and weed con­trol is reduced, and the plant­i­ngs add a ben­e­fit that is aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing,” Cameron said. It sort of is the fin­ish­ing touch to the farm. The flow­er­ing plants are great to look at and are a nice com­ple­ment to our typ­i­cal row crops and per­ma­nent plant­ing, includ­ing our olives.” 

I believe that the hedgerows will pro­vide sanc­tu­ary for ben­e­fi­cial insects that will help not only olives but also many other crops grown here in California,” he added. 

The work of plant­ing hedgerows is ambi­tious yet with a com­pelling his­tor­i­cal prece­dence. Baumgartner said the WFA has set a goal of plant­ing 500,000 miles (800,000 kilo­me­ters) of hedgerows in the U.S.

Historically, Great Britain’s hedgerows could have reached that dis­tance. The U.S. is approx­i­mately 40 times Great Britain’s size, so we can achieve this dis­tance and go even far­ther,” she con­cluded. California grow­ers, includ­ing California olive groves, play a crit­i­cal role in reach­ing this goal.” 


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