So, you want to be a farmer...?

  • Posted on: 12 January 2024
  • By: ibuchanan

If your first response to this post is "Oh, no, I do NOT want to hear about lacebug again" can I suggest you might not be cut out to work on a farm.

Yes, it's tedious hearing about the same problem over and over again. But it's seasonal and cyclical. It recurs every year, and more than once a year.

It's an Australian olive industry problem, that seems to be getting worse.

Near me there are three groves that I know of that have almost no control measures in place, so the wind-blown lacebug move up and down their valley, and no doubt some outliers make it all the way to my place. There's domestic gardens with olive trees all through the area that get flogged by lacebug until they die, the owners unaware of the issue.

So, I keep having to deal with it.

What I do try and do is learn more each year, and improve our methods of dealing with the problem.

So, the last week has totally wiped me out.

Before Christmas I had noticed pockets of lacebug. Particularly in the front laneway. I got that sprayed and was happy that I had it under control. But the last two weeks before Christmas got busier and busier. I overcommitted on markets, we had bottle fed lambs, hay baling, tree falls. I was not keeping up…and neglected to keep an eye on the olive grove.

In that two weeks the lacebug has taken off. It is quite shocking how bad it is, and how quickly it has escalated. I now have whole, big trees defoliated. Whole areas apparently with every tree saturation-infested.

Hotspot, every tree in sight affected, most with substantial damage

Smaller tree completely defoliated. We have lost smaller trees like this previously, but this one shows signs of recovery, with new buds appearing.

Blaming other groves for the problem is not going to help….the worst trees are smack-bang in the middle of my place. Clearly colonies of lacebug have overwintered there and spread out. (In other years the outlier, sentinel trees are the early warning as they pick up anything blown down the valley. This year its mostly home-grown, internal outbreaks.)

Its hot. It keeps raining, or rather the BOM says it's going to rain. No point in spraying with rain predicted, and over 27 degrees the white oil can burn the trees in the sun.

But it past that now, and all last week I put on the plastic suit and drove around in the sun spraying. The unpleasantness of the heat in the suit was driving me mad, and despite drinking lots of fluid I was getting horrible cramps at night from dehydration.

And failing to contain the spread.

So now I have local contractors coming onsite with heavy duty blast sprayers. They will drive through and spray every tree. I was struggling to reach the top of our biggest trees…the blast sprayer will cope with that. The scale of it is quite depressing….I was using a spot sprayer with a 50 litre tank. These blokes use a 1500 litre tank, and estimate 4-5 runs will be necessary.

We will need to spray again in two weeks to pick up any newly hatched bugs.

We are not a certified organic farm, but that's what I aim for. The active agent we spray with is Pyrethrum, which is allowed with organic farming. But we will be pumping 6000-7000 litres of spray out It will kill every insect in 20 acres. So depressing.

The impact on the grove of the damage already in place will be devastating.

When we had a sever infestation five or so years ago, the impact was to reduce the oil volume in the harvest. We had a normal crop, but got very little oil. But the next year the trees put all their effort into recovery, and there was so little olives set we didn't even pick.

After three good years I am seeing a light crop this year. And now with this lacebug infestation…..

I am still recalibrating. This has all happened very quickly. I might be able to turn things around for the 2025 harvest if I severely prune the worst-affected trees now. They might have enough time to establish some new shoots that will be mature enough to support olive flowers in 18 months.

But the next few months are looking a bit grim.