The Conservation Biological Control Short Course

2016 Annual Report for EW14-035

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2014: $72,050.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2018
Grant Recipient: The Xerces Society
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Eric Mader
The Xerces Society

The Conservation Biological Control Short Course


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.

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 6-year research initiative conducted by the Xerces Society and university research partners, for the first time ever presents conservation biological control as an easy-to-adopt framework for multiple crop systems.

The audience for this project includes IPM specialists, Extension personnel, NRCS conservation planners, Soil and Water Conservation District technicians, state departments of agriculture, crop consultants, and sustainable agriculture organizations.

The project is being promoted through multiple channels, as well as in partnership with relevant agencies and state research and extension leaders. Qualitative and quantitative post-course feedback from participants will be incorporated on an ongoing basis.

Based upon the overwhelmingly successful results of a prior PDP project using this same model (related to pollinator conservation), we are confident this project will foster widespread adoption of course concepts across the region.

Objectives/Performance Targets

During this 3-year project, we will deliver 12 Conservation Biological Control Short Courses in all Western SARE states. The major product of the Conservation Biological Control Short Course is a community of more than 350 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 will increase 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 new knowledge, participants will be empowered to directly support conservation biological control projects with their clients and to provide farmers with advice on how to fine-tune existing practices.


During the reporting period, we conducted four short courses that were attended by a total of 178 participants. The primary audiences at all of these events were staff from the NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Extension, and sustainable agricultural organizations as well as a number of individual farmers, researchers, master gardeners, naturalists, and non-governmental conservation organization staff. Currently, planning is underway for additional short courses in Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, and Utah for the spring and summer of 2017.

Whenever possible, short courses featured guest speakers from partnering agencies and organizations. These guest speakers add to the comprehensive content that the Xerces Society has developed for the course. Since many of these speakers regularly work in the field providing guidance to landowners or conducting conservation biological control related research, they are able to share practical information with course participants that helps them envision how conservation practices that support beneficial insects will work on their farms.

During the reporting period we delivered Conservation Biological Control Short Courses in California, Nevada, and Washington.


We conducted two California short courses in 2016. These were coordinated as back-to-back events in August 2016. We partnered closely with USDA NRCS Area Biologist Lisa Shanks and the USDA NRCS field office staff to host two very successful and well-attended courses.

The first California course was offered on August 30, 2016, at the Napa Women’s Club in Napa, California. At this course, we had 65 participants, including 21 agricultural support staff. We worked closely with Katey Taylor, a vineyard manager for Constellation Brands in Napa, California, to coordinate the event. The short course featured an on-farm habitat assessment at a production vineyard site where hedgerows had been previously established to increase the environmental value of a relatively non-productive area of the vineyard. Another event highlight was Tom Moore’s guest presentation on USDA NRCS Farm Bill support for creating habitat on farms.

At the Napa, California short course participants toured a production vineyard site and learned about how the hedgerows onsite attract beneficial insects. Photo by Thelma Heidel-Baker, The Xerces Society.

The second California short course occurred on August 31, 2016, at the Monterey County Ag Center in Salinas, California. We had 55 attendees, including 8 agricultural support staff. For this course, we worked with Dr. Eric Brennan, USDA ARS researcher in Salinas to offer a field habitat assessment at the nearby USDA ARS Organic Research Farm. This provided participants the opportunity to see ongoing research being conducted on insectary strips in organic fruit and vegetable production. Other highlights of this course included guest speaker presentations by hedgerow expert Sam Earnshaw of Hedgerows Unlimited and Adrian Lu, University of California–Berkeley graduate student.


The Nevada short course was held on September 20, 2016, at Western Nevada College in Carson City, Nevada. We had 40 attendees at this course, including 4 agricultural support staff. Rob Holley from Holley Family Farms gave a guest presentation on promoting beneficial insects from a farmer’s perspective.


The Washington short course was held at the Green River College in Enumclaw, Washington, on June 3, 2016, in partnership with the King Conservation District. We had 18 attendees at this event, including 5 agricultural support staff. A highlight of this event was a farm visit to evaluate farm property for supporting conservation biocontrol.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Through this project, we are impacting the way that agricultural support staff and farmers incorporate conservation biological control practices into their work. Conservation Biological Control Short Course participants are gaining a comprehensive understanding of beneficial insect ecology, the design and installation of habitat features that support those insects, and concepts for balancing the needs of beneficial insects with farm practices.

Of the short course attendees, 48% (86 of 178) short course participants completed the day-of-course evaluations. Of the 86 evaluation respondents, 91% (78 of 86) reported increased knowledge in how to evaluate a farm site for its ability to support beneficial insects, and 84% of participants (72 of 86) reported increased knowledge on the options available for creating and enhancing habitat for beneficial insects.

Of the 28 agricultural support staff who completed the day-of-course evaluation, 75% (21 of 28) said they plan to use course information to advise farmers about farm management practices that support beneficial insects. Among those reporting, 57% (16 of 28) said they would incorporate beneficial insect habitat enhancement into existing trainings on federal conservation programs and 54% (15 of 28) said they would consider pesticide impacts on beneficial insects in future pest control recommendations when working with farmers. In total, these agricultural support staff estimated that they interact with 791 farmers annually.

While the short course specifically targets agricultural support staff, a number of farmers attended each event. Of the farmers that completed the day-of-course evaluation, 100% (18 of 18) said that attending the short course changed how they would support beneficial insects on their farms. We found that 83% (15 of 18) of these farmers intend to provide additional habitat resources (habitat plantings, cover crops, etc.), and 78% intend to adjust farm management practices (tillage, mowing, etc.) on their farms to protect beneficial insect populations. These farmers reported to collectively manage approximately 6,524 acres of land.

Feedback from short course participants to date has been very positive. Examples of specific comments from this reporting period include:

“Brilliant instruction; well-designed class.” – Course participant, Enumclaw, WA short course 2016

“I found it totally interesting. Really liked the farm visit.” – Farmer participant, Carson City, NV short course 2016

“Presentations by Xerces staff were excellent, especially Thelma!” – Farmer participant, Napa, CA short course 2016

“I appreciate having access to this program – kudos to Xerces Society.” – Course participant, Napa, CA short course 2016

“The assessment form is awesome!” – Course participant, Napa, CA short course 2016

“Excellent – slideshows were really informative.” – Farmer participant, Salinas, CA short course 2016


Jessa Cruz
Senior Pollinator Habitat Conservation Specialist
Xerces Society
628 NE Broadway, Suite 200
Portland, OR 97232
Office Phone: 5032326639
Jennifer Hopwood
Senior Pollinator Conservation Specialist
Xerces Society
628 NE Broadway, Suite 200
Portland, OR 97232
Office Phone: 5032326639
Mace Vaughan
Pollinator Program Director
Xerces Society
628 NE Broadway, Suite 200
Portland, OR 97232
Office Phone: 5032326639