- Crop Production: crop rotation, intercropping, no-till, pollination, pollinator habitat, pollinator health, windbreaks
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, drift/runoff buffers, habitat enhancement, hedgerows, wildlife
- Pest Management: biological control, cultural control, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, prevention, row covers (for pests), smother crops
Native insects that prey upon crop pests are an overlooked resource. Although vast numbers of such beneficial insects are at work on farms across the world, they are eclipsed in farmer education by a smaller diversity of pest species. Yet, as a large body of research now demonstrates, farms as diverse as peanut-cotton operations in Georgia and forage producers in Oklahoma benefit from natural pest control.
The Conservation Biological Control Short Course synthesized that body of research and offered realistic solutions for enhancing beneficial insect populations on farms. This project, the outgrowth of a six-year research initiative conducted by the Xerces Society and university research partners, presented conservation biological control as an easy-to-adopt framework for multiple crop systems. Specific course topics included beneficial insect biology, designing habitat for beneficial insects, pesticide risk mitigation, securing financial support through USDA programs, and real-world case studies.
During the project, we collaborated with IPM specialists, university researchers, state and county 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 a short course in each state of the Southern 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.
We conducted the Conservation Biological Control Short Course in all 13 Southern SARE states, reaching 615 farm professionals and other attendees. With increased knowledge of conservation biological control practices, course participants are improving the skills and capacity of farmers, and assisting them in implementing conservation biological control management practices and on-farm habitat.
During this project, we delivered a total of 19 Conservation Biological Control Short Courses in all Southern SARE states, including 6 courses in three states using leveraged funds. These courses provided training for 615 participants, exceeding our goal of 390 short course attendees.
Our objective was to build the capacity of farm professionals to directly support their farmer-clients in adopting conservation biological control, and work with these farmer-clients to ultimately manage or restore habitat for beneficial insects. Follow-up surveys showed that short course attendees went on to advise 1,151 farms on conservation biocontrol practices, resulting in the creation of 2,801 acres of habitat (insectary strips, hedgerows, cover crops, etc.) for beneficial insects and farm management practices to protect beneficial insects on 6,350 acres. This on-farm habitat also benefits other wildlife, including pollinators and birds such as the bobwhite quail, and contributes to land stewardship by reducing soil erosion and protecting water quality.