Establishing and Evaluating Selected Cover Crops on Small Farms to Increase the Impact of Beneficial Arthropods on Crop Pests

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,984.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Robert Hochmuth
University of Florida

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: buckwheat, rye, sunflower, triticale


  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: Arthropod Habitat


    This on-farm research project demonstrated how to deploy cover crops as strip or trap crops on operating farms about 10 miles from the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension center to increase the species and populations of beneficial arthropods. Strip plantings of selected annual cover crops, such as buckwheat, sunflower, rye, triticale, and sunn hemp were established on two farms, but there was an emphasis on buckwheat. On the Hoover farm, strips of buckwheat were planted within tomato fields. On the Rooney farm, Strip crops were planted in drive rows and around the perimeter of the 5-acre blueberry field at the Rooney farm. Collections were made in both strip and cash crops to determine the composition and abundance of pest and beneficial insects. A total of 41 families of insects were collected at both farms; however, an additional 20 families occurred at the Hoover organic vegetable farm. The major pests of tomato were the stink bugs, Nezara viridula, Euschistus quadrator, Thyanta custator custator, and Oebalus pugnax pugnax. All four species were parasitized by unidentified tachinids. Piezodorus guildinii was relatively abundant in the buckwheat. The types and abundance of beneficial arthropods that parasitize or prey on arthropod pests were identified. Cooperators at both farms received training at SVAEC in whole farm pest management practices. It is intended that these “first-adopters” will influence other small-holder specialty crop farmers to plant cover crops to reduce the use of chemical insecticides, protect the environment and increase profits.


    Sustainable agriculture in the South is increasingly practiced on small farms with limited resources by farmers who live on the farms and therefore are committed to enhancing environmental quality and conserving natural resources. This situation requires that farms be economically viable, preserve the natural resource base, and enhance the quality of life for the farmers and their families. Moreover, both large and small farms play an important role in supporting the competitiveness and sustainability of U.S. rural economies.

    Southern farmers continue to face many challenges, including marginal profitability and uncertain economic security. One key production challenge for farmers in the South is the cost of effectively managing the myriad of pests that infest their crops. Southern farmers must combat many insect pests, diseases, and weeds almost year-round. In particular, Florida is at risk of agricultural loss by invasive pests due to its expansive tourism industry (84 million visitors a year) and multiple ports of entry. Hurricanes also have been blamed for introducing a number of economically important invasive pests into the Gulf States (Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas), and the region’s warm and humid climate is favorable for pest establishment.

    To support southern farmers’ efforts to manage pests sustainably, a unique, hands-on, whole farm “Living Extension IPM Field Laboratory” has been created at the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center (SVAEC) with support from the USDA, NIFA EIPM-CS and the UF/IFAS Extension programs. This specialized IPM learning environment is used continuously to demonstrate how to enhance agro-ecological systems for specialty crop farmers and other clientele groups by adopting a diversity of beneficial cultural and ecological practices to minimize the use of chemical pesticides. Small farm specialty crop producers in the region have participated in training workshops at the SVAEC and wanted to implement some of the sustainable IPM practices on their farms but required assistance in selecting appropriate cover crops and monitoring their impact on pest abundance and crop yields. The practice of particular interest to the farmers was the use of cover crops to provide habitat for native beneficial arthropods but these practices had not been tested or demonstrated on small private farms in the region. This project was designed specifically to help them manage pests in fruit and vegetable crops by demonstrating and communicating the use of cover crops to create habitats for beneficial arthropods.

    Project objectives:

    This on-farm research project was designed to demonstrate how to deploy cover crops on operating farms so that the species and populations of beneficial arthropods will be increased. We taught farmers how to increase their skill in identifying beneficial arthropods that are attracted to cover crops and how to maintain and enhance these populations on the farm year-round. Strip plantings of cover crops, e.g., selected annual cover crops, such as buckwheat, sunflower, rye, triticale, sesame, sunn hemp and others, were located on both farms, but there was an emphasis on buckwheat cover crop strips. Specific objectives for this on-farm research were as follows: 1. Plant low maintenance annual strip and trap crops at strategic locations in association with cash crops on two small farms to provide a variety of cost-effective, sustainable ecological services from native parasitoids and predators. 2. Periodically collect, identify and count all of the beneficial arthropods in the strip and cash crops, and curate a representative sample as a resource for training farmers, technicians, and students. 3. Conduct training events for small holder farmers, such as field days and UF/IFAS Small Farms Academy (SFA) workshops to present research results and provide additional information on the benefits of using cover and strip crops.

    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.