- Crop Production: agroforestry, cover crops, intercropping
- Education and Training: extension, workshop
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
- Pest Management: biological control, competition, integrated pest management, prevention
- Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture
Native insects that attack crop pests are an overlooked resource in agricultural systems. Although vast numbers of such beneficial insects are at work on farms across the world, they are eclipsed in farm education by a comparatively smaller diversity of pest species. Yet, as a large body of research now demonstrates, farmers as diverse as Christmas tree growers in Illinois to blueberry growers in Michigan benefit from natural pest control.
To address this need, we developed the Conservation Biological Control Short Course, which synthesizes the latest research on beneficial insect conservation and offers realistic solutions for enhancing beneficial insect populations on farms. This project was the outgrowth of a six-year research initiative conducted by the Xerces Society and university research partners, and in the short course, we presented conservation biological control as an easy-to-adopt framework for multiple crop systems. Specific course topics include beneficial insect biology, designing habitat enhancements, farm practices to support beneficial insects, pesticide risk mitigation, securing financial support through USDA programs, and real-world case studies.
We promoted our project through multiple channels, as well as in partnership with relevant agencies and State SARE Coordinators. During the project, we collaborated with IPM specialists, university researchers, extension personnel, NRCS conservation planners, Soil and Water Conservation District technicians, staff from state departments of agriculture, crop consultants, farmer organizations, and sustainable agriculture organizations to offer the courses in each state in the North Central SARE region. We partnered with local farmers, research stations, and agricultural organizations to get course participants out on farms whenever possible to demonstrate the concepts we taught. Qualitative and quantitative post-course feedback received from participants was incorporated on an ongoing basis.
Through this project, 374 people from all North Central SARE states attended one of twelve Conservation Biological Control Short Courses, with an average attendance of over 30 participants per course. Follow-up surveys showed that short courses improved attendees’ skills and capacity to implement beneficial insect habitat and adopt farm management practices such as incorporating flowering cover crops, reducing tillage, and changing pesticide use to protect beneficial insects. This project also helped increase participation in and familiarity with USDA conservation programs. Agricultural service providers who attended a short course reported enrolling a total of 25 farms in NRCS conservation programs for beneficial insects.
During this three-year project, we delivered 12 Conservation Biological Control Short Courses in all North Central SARE states, providing training for 374 participants, exceeding our goal of 350 short course attendees. Participants, including farmer educators, conservation agency staff, crop consultants, farm professionals, and other stakeholders, received in-depth training in the latest science-based strategies of ecological pest control. Individual workshop goals included:
- At least 30 participants per course
- Conservation practices adopted on at least 1,000 acres per course
- New enrollments in USDA conservation programs resulting from each course