Today’s New York Times features a report on the efforts by organic farms to control insect pests without using chemicals. “Farmers Find Organic Arsenal to Wage War on pests may be viewed at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/science/30farm.html?_r=1&hpw. The author briefly describes several pest control strategies using natural biological controls. He stresses the benefit of having more varieties of plants growing around agricultural fields. The plants encourage beneficial insects that feed on pest insects. Today’s monoculture agriculture doesn’t provide for the natural enemies that help control many crop-destroying insects. Monoculture planting may have contributed in part to this year’s overwhelming populations of insect pests in the Arkansas Delta. The article describes the use of “trap crops” planted to lure pest insects away from cash crops. To keep bugs away from strawberry plants, alfalfa is planted nearby. The alfalfa is more attractive to a pest bug than the strawberry plant, thus the strawberry crop is saved. Other farmers use a vacuum to suck bugs from the strawberry plants. Ed Anderson is experimenting with a vacuum arrangement that he built to remove small hive beetles from his Tennessee bee hives. Such mechanical controls are good choices for inclusion in integrated pest management programs; there is no chance of a pest developing a resistance to a sucking machine. Bats are effective controllers of certain insect pests. Unfortunately, these flying mammals, that are also useful pollinators, are declining in numbers. For information about bats and White-nose Syndrome, the fungal disease that is seriously reducing their populations, visit http://www.batcon.org/.
The Times article speaks of the benefit of nutrient-rich soil and the use of cover crops including legumes. Some organic farmers are using essential oil sprays to protect crops. They are spraying clove, mint, and thyme to repel and kill pests. This sounds like our non-chemical approaches to beekeeping, using essential oils to kill Varroa mites. It appears that organic crop farmers and beekeepers have much to share. Today’s photo: monocultural plantings leave little habitat for beneficial insects.