Low-Tech Farming Pest Control in Testing

Reader Contribution by Fast Company
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A farm near Buckingham, England is testing a new method of pest control for farms that does not involve any commercial pesticides. Instead of spraying the fields with potentially harmful chemicals, these farmers are planting rows of flowers that run directly through the middle of their farm to attract pest-eating bugs to their farms, and replace the need for chemical pesticides. This farm is 1 of 14 sites in a study testing how well wildflowers attract pest-eating bugs, and how well they can replace commercial pesticides.

The study also includes planting a border of wildflowers around the field to promote general biodiversity, which these farmers have done for nearly two decades. Although not used specifically for pest control, these wildflower borders have helped researchers and farmers see that perhaps the flowers can be used as pesticides. However, since small bugs cannot travel far, the farmers have begun planting the wildflowers in strips right through their farms. This way, the small bugs can handle the flight time from one wildflower patch to the next, and stay on task of eating the farm pests.

“The wide-scale adoption of precision agricultural systems, particularly GPS mapping and precision application technologies, means that it should now possible to implement and protect these in-field habitats,” researchers Ben Woodcock and Richard Pywell, of the U.K.-based Center for Ecology and Hydrology, write in an email. “This would have been very challenging a few years ago. While this is unlikely to eliminate the need to apply pesticide, it may mean that pests populations are maintained below levels at which they cause damage to crops for longer periods, thus reducing the number of pesticide sprays applied.”

Many pesticides in the UK have been taken off the market due to the growing evidence that link many cases of polluted drinking water and dead bees. However, many pesticides that are still in use are sprayed so frequently that it causes the pesticide to become less effective as pests become more resistant to the chemicals. This bright side of this is that options for pest control on farms are waning, which makes now a good time to rethink the future of crop protection methods.

A similar study in Switzerland planted poppies and other flowers along the fields, and reported a 61 percent decreased in leaf damages, due to the flowers’ ability to shield insects like ladybugs that eat wheat-eating pests. Scientists with this study suggest that the real effectiveness behind this method is choosing the right combination of flowers for each particular field or farm.

The next step of this research is to bring the method to larger commercial farms, to test if the results are the same and can be applied on a much larger scale. Researchers also want to look further into the economic value of this method, and how it can be incorporated with more modern farming tech and practices.

This method probably will not completely eliminate the use of pesticides, but it could significantly decrease its use on farms, serving as a backup plan rather than a primary defense.

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