Innovative agricultural producers in the North Central United States are constantly developing techniques and strategies for maintaining a profitable farm operation, while lessening negative environmental impacts. Pest management is an area of agricultural production that depends heavily on environmentally questionable techniques that damage non-targeted habitats and organisms. Ecological principles reveal that, when their basic needs are met, beneficial predatory invertebrates can prevent pest outbreaks through biological control. lnterseeding cover crops into stands of growing cash crops may help support predators in cropland through various means. The aim of this study is to assess how interseeding cover crops into standing corn affects beneficial and pest invertebrate communities, as well as farmer productivity and net profitability. Eight interseeded and non-interseeded plot pairs will be established on volunteer, producer-owned farms in Eastern South Dakota. Cover crop species will be seeded between corn rows without damaging the focal cash crop. Foliar and soil-surface dwelling invertebrate communities in both habitats will be examined three times, prior to corn canopy closure, during corn anthesis, and after corn harvest. In addition to characterization of invertebrate communities, generalist predator activity will be monitored by using sentinel prey items to gain a better understanding of the importance of in-field plant diversity on biological control of pests. Upon completion of field collections and data analyses, extensive outreach efforts including informational videos and research summaries in the popular press will be dispersed by soil health organizations and our local farmer network. As this is a partnership between a non-profit foundation, a land grant university, and agricultural producers, there will be a broad audience interested in the implications of our results for their own operations. Pest management is a major contributor to the cost of corn production in the U.S., and reducing input costs associated with managing pests has the potential to improve the resilience of corn production in the North Central Region. Current focus on valuing interseeding does not consider the pest management benefits of the interseed; our project will fill this critical information gap.
Project objectives from proposal:
A growing number of agricultural producers recognize the importance of conserving natural resources and biodiversity on their farms to ensure operational sustainability and longevity. This research aims to provide farmers across the Midwest with applicable information regarding interseeding cover crops to be translated into major changes in insect pest management. Gaining an education about conservation biological control of potential pests will likely spark farmer’s interests in harnessing natural forces for the benefit of their operations rather than substituting natural forces with costly and harmful agrichemicals. Conducting this research on volunteer farmers’ land will mitigate the “ordeal of change” that so frequently prevents land owners from trying something new. Changing farmer’s attitudes, and forging relationships through this producer/researcher partnership will open avenues for further communication between stakeholders and scientists seeking to mitigate natural resource perturbation while maintaining profitability.
• Relative effects of adding interseeded species on predation of insect pests.
• Economic benefits of interseeded systems on reducing pest management input costs.
Producers will gain skills to plan and practice pest management using more tools than they previously had, resulting in less dependence on insecticidal inputs. Realization of plant diversity’s role in farmland productivity will propel farmers into seeking out opportunities to incorporate cover crops into their rotation whenever possible; benefiting not only pest management efforts but also erosion reduction, soil carbon sequestration, weed suppression etc. An important long-term outcome of the proposed research is building rural communities through land stewardship and opening previously unrealized economic opportunities.