Collaborative Approaches to Increase the Integration of Functional Agricultural Biodiversity in Western Farming Systems
The concept of functional agricultural biodiversity (FAB) embraces a variety of living organisms with beneficial roles on farms and adjacent lands, and the habitats supplying resources to them. FAB practices sustain the flow of ecosystem services within farming systems. Teaching farmers FAB practices can restore important ecological services including biological crop pest suppression, crop pollination, and increased soil and watershed health. Implementing FAB practices such as establishing in-field and margin insectary plantings and hedgerows can reduce production costs by reducing the use of pesticides, raise or stabilize yields, improve product quality, enable cost-effective compliance with environmental regulations and farm bill conservation programs, and provide access to markets that require biodiversity-friendly production.
Current research suggests that on-farm habitat attracts abundant, diverse communities of beneficial insect predators and parasitoids that can provide local protection against current and future crop pest challenges (Jedlicka et al. 2011; Letourneau et al. 2009). In Michigan, researchers found that soybean fields with adjacent biodiverse field edges and in-crop insectary strips maintained populations of lady beetles that significantly reduced damage to soybeans by the soybean aphid (Woltz et al. 2012). Increasing floral resources in California lettuce fields significantly increased Syrphid fly predation and decreased crop damage by the lettuce aphid (Hogg et al. 2011). Herbaceous borders in between New York crop fields significantly reduced the occurrence of human pathogenic bacteria in soil and water (Strawn et al., 2013).
Despite all these potential advantages FAB practices are often under-utilized on western farms. A 2012 Western Region FAB Work Group needs assessment (funded by an Organic Research and Extension Initiative Planning Grant) identified impediments to FAB implementation by western farmers. These include a lack of appropriately localized knowledge, poor continuity in programs, and limited flow of information and feedback between organizations and farmers.
The Western Region Functional Agricultural Biodiversity (FAB) Work Group combines PNW farmers, industry consultants, NRCS, SWCD, RCD and non-profit personnel, and extension researchers. For 7 years it has acted as an incubator for collaborative projects and local networks, and a facilitator of teaching events and technical aid to overcome the identified impediments and increase the adoption of practices that increase functional agricultural biodiversity on California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon farms.
In 2015/16, we will hold a Work Group meeting to present current regional FAB projects, solicit new members, provide initial training for potential outreach leaders and cooperatively plan a 2016 on-farm short course. The purpose of the course is to teach technical skills in establishing on-farm habitat to farmers, researchers, and conservationists. We will conduct an analysis of the Work Group structure and its projects. This will enable us to define its geographical and sociological scope, determine its ability to effect adoption of FAB practices, and its capacity to evaluate our success in teaching technical aspects of habitat establishment.
In 2016/17, we will produce the first Western FAB Summit in Portland, Oregon with project participants as co-presenters. The Summit will highlight current on-the-ground practices and collaborative projects, provide technical aid for the implementation of on-farm conservation practices, and develop strategies for strengthening local and state FAB networks.
In 2017/18, we will complete and distribute the network analysis. We will also continue to strategize within the FAB Work Group structure to support project-identified, state-level FAB leaders, networks and collaborative projects.
Twenty-three attended the 7th Annual Functional Agricultural Biodiversity (FAB) Work Group Meeting held Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 from 9:00-4:30. The venue was the OSU Portland Center in the heart of downtown Portland, at Union Bank Building. A summary of the meeting can be found in Appendix Two.appendix-two-fab-work-group-meeting-notes-2-17-16
Network analysis parameters have been defined and a draft survey implement was produced. The draft was reviewed by project collaborator and FAB Work Group member, Rachael Long, University of California Cooperative Extension, Yolo County. The other reviewers were project collaborator and FAB Work Group member, Rex Dufour, CA NCAT and a Washington conservationist from the Underwood Conservation District. IRB approved the final survey implement. The survey was launched August 1, 2016. A copy of the survey is included in Appendix One. appendix-one-fab-network-mapping-survey
In accordance with parameters defined by FAB Work Group members at the 2016 Portland annual meeting a two-day course entitled “Integrated Biological Pest Management Practices for Oregon Farms” was conducted August 23-24, 2016 in Corvallis, OR with numerous partners. The first day of the course presented practices and technical details to establish and integrate conservation practices that increase agricultural biodiversity into farm production plans. The second day the course was held at two Oregon vegetable farms. Both farms have established extensive on-farm habitat for beneficial insects and other organisms unique to their farming systems and employ conservation practices such as crop rotations, no-till production and cover crops. The first farm toured was a 360-acre conventional farm that grows vegetables for processing, asparagus, native and cover crop seeds. The second farm toured was a 35-acre certified organic vegetable farm. On this farm participants practiced their field identification skills for beneficial insects and their life stages learned from day one. A copy of the course agenda may be found in Appendix Three.appendix-three-ibpm-course-agenda-8-23-24
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
New members from WA, Idaho, California and Oregon farms, non-profits and NRCS attended the FAB Work Group Annual meeting in February enriching the scope of our collaborative strength. A panel featuring some of the West’s leading hedgerow experts was presented. Panelists included Rachael Long of UCCE, Sam Earnshaw of Hedgerows Unlimited and Rex Dufour of CA NCAT. New research on the beneficial insects associated with hedgerows, their positive impacts on crop pest predation, barriers farmers face in their adoption and many establishment tips were presented. Parameters for the 2016 field course were developed for a course in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. New Farmer member Alana Kenagy and Ellen agreed to set up conversations with one of Oregon’s largest vegetable processors, Norpac, to target transitioning Norpac growers and environmental certification inspectors as the prime course audience. FAB Work Group members broke into three small groups to brainstorm on what members needed to integrate FAB into their work/farm programs and how the Work Group could facilitate those needs. Though many of the actions the groups identified could be used individually the Work Group agreed to work on focusing workshops in Oregon as that is where our course and summit will be held. In these events we would focus our audience to large buyers of farm products and larger farms. The group also discussed the format of the 2017 FAB Summit being similar to Ellen’s Bugscaping Faires of the past displaying aspects of FAB practices and examples of how larger producers can integrate them and buyers can support their adoption instead of beneficial insect ID and practices to attract them. A summary of FAB policy issues were presented by Jo Ann Baumgartner who is the ED of Wild Farm Alliance and a member of the National Sustainable Ag Coalition. Project partner Ken Vance-Borland also presented information on the network analysis, what this scientific analysis can demonstrate. Ellen led a discussion on what we hope to gain with our own network analysis and a sample of the survey instrument was presented.
In April 2016 Ellen and Kenagy met with Randy Lyons of Norpac. Randy works in field production for Norpac. Kenagy Farm is a long-time Norpac grower. We informed Randy of our FAB Work Group and our desire to work hold FAB workshops for Norpac growers transitioning to organic or with Food Alliance environmental certification. Randy felt our 2016 timeline for a field course would not work and though he did agree to post our course in the Norpac on-line newsletter no Norpac growers attended the 2016 course even though one of our hosts was a Norpac grower. We also asked Randy how would be a good way to reach his buyers but to no avail so far. Another meeting would be in order with Lyons as we begin to plan the 2017 FAB Summit.
So far 54 of the 120 invitees have answered the network survey. This is not only providing us with clear maps of our relationships and networks across the west it is also providing us with valuable information as to where participants would like more guidance and information in their work pertaining to FAB. This is incredibly valuable for the development of 2017 FAB Summit enabling us to directly respond to specific identified areas of interest. FAB Work group members have begun design of the FAB Summit. March 2017 has been chosen as the general time and Ellen is actively seeking Portland venues to narrow the date.
Recruitment for the 2017 field course went out in July 2016. Ellen partnered with the Oregon’s Soil and Water Conservation Society, the Benton Soil and Water Conservation District (BSWCD), the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), Oregon State University’s Integrated Plant Protection Center (IPPC) and the USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Corvallis Plant Materials Center (PMC) to produce the course (Appendix Four). appendix-four-ibpm-2016_flyer2 There were five co-teachers, including the two farmer hosts (see Appendix Three). Though it was our goal to have inspectors and Norpac farmers attend this course only one inspector attended and no Norpac growers or buyers. However, twenty eight participants spanning 5 Oregon and 1 WA county did attend the course. Farmer represented 1,788 acres of vegetables, hay, Christmas trees, grain, fruit, hops and native plant crops. An evaluation summary will be prepared and distributed this winter. Evaluations with over a 90% response rate showed a large learning curve and a high probability of participants adopting practices they learned in the course. Comments from the course included:
“This was excellent. Great info. Leaves me wanting more. Great food.”
“Great on ecology of the area.”
“Good job! Fun and educational!!”
“I did not know what to expect, my mind was blown.”
“I had high expectations and I learned more than I thought I would.”
“Fabulous speakers and mix of classroom and field trips.”
Farm Advisor, Yolo County
Unversity of California Cooperative Extension
70 Cottonwood St.
Woodland, CA 95695
Office Phone: 5307927338
Conservation Planning Institute
8285 NW Wynoochee Dr.
Corvallis, OR 97330
Office Phone: 5412317949
Western Region Office Director
National Center for Appropriate Technology
PO Box 2218
Davis, CA 95617-0363
Office Phone: 5307927338