Banking on Beetles in Oregon

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2006: $19,068.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Gwendolyn Ellen
Agricultural Biodiversity Consulting

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. annual), grass (misc. perennial), grass (turfgrass, sod), sorghum sudangrass


  • Animal Production: parasite control
  • Education and Training: display, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Pest Management: biological control, field monitoring/scouting, trap crops
  • Production Systems: permaculture


    Thirty-eight percent of the nation’s organic growers identified habitat for beneficials as one of their major pest management strategies (Waltz 1999) yet relevant information on implementation, establishment, and conservation of such habitat on a regional level is virtually non-existent. In this project we used novel principles of the Community Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and participatory approaches to learning developed by the FAO UN (Dilts 2001, Bartlett 2004) and methods from the “club model” successfully applied by the Alternative Energy Resource Organization (AERO) in Montana to help Oregon farmers develop new conservation biological control strategies on their farm in the form of experimental beetle banks. We surveyed farm predacious beetle populations, began to evaluate the banks and other farm habitat as effective refuge for beetles and enhanced the adoption and adaption of beetle bank technology among PNW farmers. The beetle banks have been a focus for developing successful establishment and weed management practices within farming systems as well as innovative outreach tools for a larger audience of farmers wishing to create more on-farm habitat for beneficial organisms.


    Beneficial insect habitat was included in the five most commonly reported insect pest management practices used by organic farmers in an Organic Farming Research Foundation 1995 survey (Waltz 1999). Sooby et al. (2007) report that farmers prefer to minimize pest outbreak damage by managing ecological elements of their farming systems. They document that developing optimal plant species mixes and planting strategies for hedgerows and non-disturbed buffers that provide habitat for beneficial organisms and habitat manipulations to maximize their effects are top pest management research needs for organic farmers. A current review of the literature suggests that the use of such techniques reduced crop pest abundance significantly in 49 out of 67 cases (73%) and reduced crop damage or increased yield significantly in 22 out of 31 cases (71%) (Symondson et al. 2002).

    Effective implementation of beneficial on-farm habitat has been done in many types of cropping systems through mechanisms of conserving/enhancing floral alternate host or shelter resources or through avoidance of disturbance by pesticides (Landis et al. 2000). However, it is important to tune the manipulations to the life history of specific beneficial organisms (Jarvis et al. 2004) as well as to the specific crop management system (Gurr et al.1998). To do this farmers need more relevant, regional information to develop on-farm beneficial habitat (Brodt et al. 2008, Organic Potato PMSP for Idaho, OR, and WA 2007 and others).

    This project stems from a collaboration of organic vegetable growers and researchers working together since 2003 in a program called Farmscaping for Beneficials (FSB) at OSU’s Integrated Plant Protection Center (IPPC). Farmers interested in providing habitat to conserve and/or enhance populations and effectiveness of beneficial organisms or conservation biological control (CBC) (Barbosa 1998) began visiting local organic vegetable farms to learn what CBC practices neighboring farmers were implementing and how they might adopt and adapt them on their farms.

    During these FSB farm walks farmers identified characteristics they wanted in new CBC methods and information they needed to implement them. Most farmers already employed flowering cover crops, allowing crops to bloom, and releasing beneficial insects, but only a few had tried creating permanent habitat such as insectary hedgerows, or beetle banks. Several farmers voiced their interest in creating beetle banks on their farms. These farmers wanted information on appropriate plant species for the banks, establishment and maintenance techniques, and some scientific evidence that increasing predacious ground beetle habitat would benefit their farm.

    Beetle Banks are undisturbed, grassy mounds that provide essential over-wintering habitat for predatory beetles and spiders. Research in the United Kingdom has demonstrated that generalist predators, particularly ground beetles, seek out and benefit from the microclimate afforded by beetle banks (Dennis et al. 1994). These generalist predators feed on arthropod pests in agricultural systems and contribute to lower pest abundance (Brewer and Elliot 2003, Edwards et al. 1979, Kromp 1999, Sunderland and Vickerman 1980). Critical to the success of beetle banks is the quick establishment of tussock-forming grasses in a uniform sward or bank that inhibits invasion by weeds or species with undesirable habitat characteristics. In addition beetle banks need to be situated in the farm landscape in such a way that they augment generalist predators in places and at times that are relevant to suppressing crop pests. Current recommendations for the design and construction of beetle banks come almost entirely from research conducted in Europe and New Zealand.

    In 2005, four participating Oregon organic farmers and FSB researchers were awarded this SARE grant to look at on-farm populations of predacious ground beetles and to begin developing on-farm technologies for beetle banks. Project farmers and researchers have collaboratively developed science-based, farming-system tested, practices for beetle bank design and establishment that will work throughout the western United States. We have also identified specific plant species and plant associations that provide effective beetle habitat and that minimize weed establishment.

    Under this project, four on-farm banks were constructed utilizing successful (and sometimes not so successful) weed management techniques including flaming and mulching, site preparation practices of cover cropping and rotary tilling, bank raising techniques employing the use of plows, harrowers, discs, shovels and compost. We tested appropriate native grass species which were transplanted and hand-broadcasted. Preliminary data on predacious ground beetles populations and associated habitat including beetle banks, have been recorded from 2 farms for the past two years. This data serves as a valuable baseline for future long-term studies of the biodiversity of these on-farm habitats and the beneficial organisms associated with them.

    This project has utilized the club model and participatory approaches that employ farm walks, extensions of farm walks called field classes, and direct farmer to farmer meetings that capitalize on farmer participation, expertise, leadership and result in community building. Under this structure farmers designed their own beetle bank experiments and implemented them, exchanged information on what worked and what didn’t work with other participating farmers and neighboring farmers and at regional meetings. Research shows that farmers learn best from farmers, are more willing to adapt practices learned from neighboring farmers, and that they prefer this type of learning method (Brodt et al. 2008, DePhelps 2007 and Waltz 1999). Researchers contend that factors such as attending field days and personal contact with extension researchers are significant variables determining adoption of conservation practices (Nowak 1987, Rogers 1995). In 2007 studies in Denmark found that economic factors alone are not always enough to explain diffusion of innovations across agricultural landscapes. They found the socio-cultural processes that stem from local, pioneering farmer-leaders and “ambassadors” or those who facilitate the local leaders’ work, play critical roles in adoption of new practices (Brodt et al. 2008). This research provides strong arguments for the types of outreach utilized in this project which included in the first year, 2 on-farm field classes for farmers, including one in which a beetle bank was constructed, 3 farmer field tours, and one farmer winter meeting that included dinner and one farmer slide and poster presentation at a local watershed district winter meeting. The second year we conducted one farm walk, presented 2 farmer habitat presentations (one on-farm in OR which included a dinner and beetle bank tour, and one in WA), developed 3 project posters and a project website. The website had an estimated 8,959 visits in 2007. Information on the project has been published in professional, regional, and local publications and featured on local television stations.

    Project objectives:

    1. To help farmers Oregon farmers develop experimental beetle banks of their own design on their farms. This involves developing techniques for beetle bank construction, establishment and maintenance.

    2. Make preliminary assessments of the value of on-farm beetle banks as pest management tools in vegetable farming systems.

    3. Use the banks as a focus for observation, evaluation, learning and outreach among farmers using various participatory, Community IPM approaches.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.