- 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 attack 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 farm 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 synthesizes that body of research and offers realistic solutions for enhancing beneficial insect populations on farms. Specific course topics include beneficial insect biology, designing habitat for beneficials, pesticide risk mitigation, securing financial support through USDA programs, and real-world case studies.
This project, the outgrowth of a six-year research initiative conducted by the Xerces Society and university research partners, presents conservation biological control as an easy-to-adopt framework for multiple crop systems.
The audience for this project includes farm professionals such as IPM specialists, Extension personnel, NRCS conservation planners, Soil and Water Conservation District technicians, state departments of agriculture, crop consultants, farmers, and sustainable agriculture organizations.
We will conduct the Conservation Biological Control Short Course in all 13 Southern SARE states, reaching at least 390 farm professionals. With increased knowledge of conservation biological control practices, course participants will improve the skills and capacity of farmers, and assist them in implementing conservation biological control management practices and on-farm habitat. Qualitative and quantitative post-course feedback from participants will be incorporated on an ongoing basis.
Project objectives from proposal:
While beneficial insects alone may not solve all pest problems, ongoing research now clearly demonstrates a very strong link between conservation of natural habitat for beneficial insects and reduced pest problems on farms.
This concept of providing habitat for insects that attack crop pests is referred to as “conservation biological control.” In contrast, classical biological control emphasizes releasing non-native predator and parasitoid insects. The introduction of species into new areas can raise concerns about their impact on ecosystems. Conservation biocontrol represents a win-win opportunity: a chance to reduce pest damage, while at the same time supporting native biodiversity.
Specifically, conservation biological control can:
1. Reduce the need for insecticides
2. Improve crop yields by reducing pest damage
3. Reduce the need for non-native biocontrol agents
4. Provide habitat for wildlife such as gamebirds, songbirds, and pollinators
5. Support functional native plant buffers with secondary benefits to water quality and soil conservation
6. Improve rural aesthetics
7. Help organic farmers meet the biodiversity criteria of the NOP Organic Rule
Through this project, short course participants will gain an increased awareness of these benefits and clear strategies on how to achieve them. Participants will increase their knowledge of beneficial insect biology and habitat requirements, the design and installation of new habitat, pesticide risk mitigation, and how to support these efforts through USDA conservation programs. With this new knowledge, participants will be able to directly support conservation biological control projects with their clients and to provide farmers with advice on native plant field borders, flowering hedgerows, in-field insectary strips, beetle banks, cover cropping, conservation tillage, and pesticide risk mitigation strategies.
The Conservation Biological Control Short Course will foster a community of 390 farm professionals who are empowered with new knowledge and the enthusiasm, motivation, and confidence to share that knowledge with the farmers they support. We know that such professional communities are incredibly significant based upon the model of our earlier pollinator conservation short courses. In that previous project, attendance ranged from 30 to 100 participants per event, and trainings led to the adoption of conservation practices for pollinators on thousands of acres.
A related product of those trainings was increased direct participation in USDA conservation programs such as EQIP, WHIP, and CSP. For example, through the Pollinator Conservation Short Course, we typically observed an average of 5 new USDA program enrollments resulting from each training event (either through direct farmer participation or through farm educators). Using this previous outcome as a target, we anticipate this project yielding up to 65 new enrollments in USDA conservation programs.
Our objective is to build the capacity of 390 farm professionals to directly support their farmer-clients in adopting conservation biological control, and work with these farmer-clients to ultimately manage or restore at least 10,000 acres of habitat for beneficial insects. This on-farm habitat will also benefit other wildlife, including pollinators and birds such as the bobwhite quail, and contribute to land stewardship by reducing soil erosion and protecting water quality.