- Education and Training: technical assistance, extension, workshop
- Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management
- Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture
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, farmers as diverse as pumpkin growers in New Mexico and wine grape producers in eastern Washington 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, 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 or webinar in each state of the Western 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, we reached 418 people from all Western SARE states who attended a Conservation Biological Control Short Course or webinar. 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. In addition, agricultural service providers who attended a short course reported advising on NRCS conservation programs for beneficial insects on 50 farms.
During this three-year project, we delivered 12 Conservation Biological Control Short Courses and one webinar in all Western SARE states, providing training for 418 participants, exceeding our goal of 350 short course attendees. The Conservation Biological Control Short Course resulted in a community of farm educators, crop consultants, and conservation planners who are empowered with new knowledge and the enthusiasm, motivation, and confidence to share that knowledge with the farmers they support.
Through this project, participants increased their knowledge of beneficial insect biology, habitat requirements, the design and installation of new habitat, pesticide risk mitigation, and how to support these efforts through USDA conservation programs. With this knowledge, participants are able to support conservation biological control projects with their clients and provide farmers with advice on how to fine-tune existing practices for beneficial insect conservation.