Manage Insects on Your Farm: A Guide To Ecological Strategies

Ecological pest management employs tactics that have existed in natural ecosystems for thousands of years. Since the beginning of agriculture — indeed, long before then — plants co-evolved with pests and with the natural enemies of those pests. As plants developed inherent protective mechanisms against pests, they were helped by numerous partners in the ecosystem, for example:

Beneficial insects that attack crop insects and mites by chewing them up or sucking out their juices; Beneficial parasites, which commandeer pests for habitat or food; Disease-causing organisms, including fungi, bacteria, viruses, protozoa and nematodes that fatally sickeninsects or keep them from feeding or reproducing. These organisms also attack weeds; Insectssuch as ground beetles that eat weed seeds Beneficial fungi and bacteria that inhabit root surfaces, blocking attack by disease organisms.

A crimson clover cover crop prevents erosion, improves soil, fixes nitrogen and attracts beneficial insects. By integrating these natural strategies into your farming systems, you can manage pests in a way that is healthier for the environment and eliminates many of the problems associated with agrichemical use. Knowing the life cycles of pests and understanding their natural enemies allows you to better manipulate the system to enhance, rather than detract from, the built-in defenses available in nature.

Another National Academy of Science report (1996), Ecologically Based Pest Management (EBPM), stated that EBPM “should be based on a broad knowledge of the agro-ecosystem and will seek to manage rather than eliminate pests” in ways that are “profitable, safe, and durable.” In addition to reducing pest damage, shifting your farming system to ecological pest management will bring multiple benefits to your operation. For example, moving from monoculture to longer rotations improves water-and nutrient-use efficiency. Cover crops planted to attract beneficial insects also suppress weeds, improve the soil, provide moisture-conserving mulch, fix or store nitrogen for subsequent crops and contribute to overall nutrient management goals.

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