March 19, 2021

It is a bug eat bug world …

… and we should take advantage of that.

Written by: Lucy Crowther.

In recent decades, our agricultural system has grown increasingly reliant on chemicals for the control of insect crop pests. But what do we do when those controls start to fail us? And what happens when governments ban whole chemical groups due to their harmful effects on non-target species?

Farmers and growers cannot rely on spraying earlier, applying more, and swapping to the next chemical for much longer. Modern agricultural practices favour extensive monocultures and large open fields, leaving wildlife little room, but what if wildlife is the answer to common agricultural difficulties, and always has been.

For every insect that is the cause of these difficulties, there will be at least one other that is ready to eat it, lay eggs in it, or use it as a host to live on. In the past, when farms were smaller and grew a more diverse array of crops, farmers managed without chemical control, instead relying on these natural enemies of pests to keep populations under damage thresholds. With appropriate land management techniques, the farms of today can also rely on natural enemies as biological control agents.

Flower power

To promote natural enemies within farming landscapes, several techniques can be adopted.  Natural enemies require insect prey in between pest outbreaks within the crop and many go through life stages that need an alternative source of food; pollen and nectar for adult parasitoid wasps and hoverflies. Providing these resources as well as shelter during periods of intense agricultural activities and hibernation will give a chance for natural enemy communities to increase, diversify, and maintain stable, and able to rapidly respond to pest outbreaks.

Floral field margins are one land management technique often implemented to provide habitat for wildlife, mainly pollinators and natural enemies. However, not all flowers are equally as good at providing resources to promote biological control. Caution must be taken, and more research conducted into which floral species specifically attract and support beneficial invertebrates and, on the other hand, which attract and support pest species.