East Bay Edition

Flower Power

Farms Test Low-Tech Pesticide Alternative

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To make sure more beneficial bugs come to their crops to feed on pests, farmers are planting flowers in the middle of their fields. On a farm near the town of Buckingham, England, a crop of oilseed rape is planted amidst rows of wildflowers. It’s one of 14 sites in a study testing the wildflowers’ efficacy in attracting pest-eating bugs, and how well they would perform in replacing toxic pesticides.

The study also includes the use of borders of wildflowers around each field, a technique farmers in the area have used for the past two decades to promote general biodiversity, though not specifically for pest control.

Researchers Ben Woodcock and Richard Pywell, of the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology, write, “The crop protection ‘toolbox’ is becoming smaller and more vulnerable, so now is a good time to rethink our future crop protection strategies to consider the use of alternative pest control measures alongside conventional pesticides.”

Pesticide use probably won’t be eliminated completely, they say. However, by attracting pest-eating bugs—along with other techniques like breeding plants to better resist pests, using technology to better diagnose and forecast pest behavior and application systems that can apply tiny amounts of pesticide more precisely—pesticide use could be dramatically reduced. Harsh chemicals can then serve as a last line of defense, rather than the first thing farmers reach for.


This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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