- Fruits: apples, berries (blueberries), cherries
- Animals: bees
- Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: cooperatives, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, value added
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
- Pest Management: biological control
- Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture
This research project has three main project outcomes:
1) increase producer and public awareness of using flowering plant diversity in farms to support beneficial insects including natural enemies and pollinators
2) improve producer knowledge of beneficial insect identification and biology
3) develop guidelines for increased implementation of insect conservation strips in farmland
Through this project we will address the SARE goal to sustain and improve the environmental quality and natural resource base on which agriculture depends. The project will be conducted on Michigan fruit farms, working with producers of blueberry, cherry, and apple to test the hypothesis that insect conservation strips planted with native Midwest flowering plants support beneficial insects and lead to improved crop productivity and quality. Strips will be established at cooperator farms, and fields with and without conservation strips will be compared for the abundance and diversity of native bees and insect natural enemies. We will also monitor pests to determine potential negative effects. Using the research sites as venues, field days will promote the project and provide opportunities to educate producers and rural communities about beneficial insects and their conservation in farmland.
The project team will produce a printed and online guide to insect conservation on fruit farms from this project, and will evaluate project success through surveys on our website, pre- and post- training tests at field days, sales of our guide, and adoption of Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation practices.
Project objectives from proposal:
Our overall objective in this project is to increase pollination and reduce pest abundance in fruit crops by deploying native plant conservation strips to support native bees and natural enemies.
Short-term and intermediate-term outcomes: To achieve our short-term aim of increasing appreciation in producers and the public for the roles that beneficial insects play in supporting agriculture, we will conduct research trials at fruit farms to gather data on the effectiveness of native plants to support these insects. This will also serve as a focus of outreach efforts. To increase grower ability to identify natural enemies and native pollinators and their knowledge of beneficial insect biology, training programs will be conducted at the field sites. We expect that native plant conservation strips will provide habitat for native bees that can then provide pollination during times when weather is not suitable for honeybees, or at farms without honeybees. By providing habitat and food sources attractive to beneficial insects, we also expect greater natural insect pest control in crops adjacent to conservation strips. We expect a 10% increase in the long-term yield from fields adjacent to conservation strips, equivalent to $1,000/acre increase in income from a well-maintained blueberry field.
Our intermediate aims by the end of this project are to:
1) increase by 25% the level of knowledge of beneficial insects and their habitat requirements,
2) increase by 30% the proportion of growers who answer our annual questionnaire indicating that they have adopted insect conservation practices on their farms, and
3) increase by 20% the number of growers accessing NRCS-EQIP funding for these practices.
To ensure that the information gained through this and related projects is captured in a form usable by growers across the region in the long term, we will develop an extension bulletin and associated internet material for producers on how to establish these strips, where to locate them on the farm, and which plants will be best for achieving the goals of beneficial insect conservation.
These outcomes will address each of the broad-based priorities of the NCR-SARE program. We expect that flowering plant strips will lead to increased sustainable crop yield and quality, and this should translate into improved profitability. By providing native habitat for beneficial insects, the project will help growers implement practices that sustain and improve the environmental quality and natural resource base on which agriculture depends. Lastly, the use of native flowering plants around fruit crop fields will enhance the quality of life for farmers/ranchers, rural communities, and society as a whole. These plants will provide a colorful addition to the rural farm landscape, and should be of great interest to farmers that have members of the public visiting their farm for tours. The conservation strips will also provide a focal point for discussions of how farmers are engaged in environmental sustainability.