December 28, 2016
As an alternative to harmful pesticides, there’s an organic farming technique that uses insects to fight off other insects that destroy crops. Marshal Hinsley, a farm owner in Texas, stopped using insecticides and planted wildflowers and shrubs to attract critters that could eat the harmful insects instead. “I credit the spiders are probably taking care of about half of potential insect pest issues,” he said. Other insects attracted to the wildflowers work as guards and pollinators for his crops.
The University of California, Berkley confirmed Hinsley’s technique as effective. Reducing pesticide use and planting native plants and shrubs around farms can lure natural pest predators and pollinators. The technique is becoming popular with farmers and is a solution to two of agriculture’s growing concerns—the use of pesticides and declining bee populations. Hinsley noticed other Dallas farmers struggle with production when they rarely saw honeybees or native bees around their plants.
A study published in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment reported how California native hedgerows of chaparrals and poppies attracted wild bees that reduced pests like aphids on a tomato farm in Sacramento. The hedgerows helped provide more resources for wild bees and other insects. “Really quickly we started finding that hedgerows support a lot of pollinators and natural enemies, and it's quite amazing really,” said Lauren Ponisio, an ecologist at UC Berkeley. “You're in this incredible desert for something like an insect, and you put these resources out there and somehow they appear.”
In 2015-16, beekeepers lost 44 percent of their honeybee colonies. As honeybee populations continue to deplete, the need to diversify pollination has increased significantly. Both honeybees and wild bees can benefit from hedgerows as they reduce the exposure to pests and provide them with another food source. "Honeybee colonies are hammered by diseases and pests," said Hillary Sardiñas, Pacific Coast Pollinator Specialist at the Xerces Society, which helps farmers implement and manage hedgerows across the country. “When they visit hedgerow plants, they get varied nutrition that improves their overall health.”
This organic form of pest control allows farmers like Marshal Hinsley to preserve biodiversity and supply more help than harm to the bee population while not negatively affecting their income. Some farmers are concerned with hedgerows attracting things like rodents, birds, and other pests, but there isn’t any evidence that they do. As per Sardiñas, birds that do use hedgerows “tend to be the ones proving pest control in the crops.”
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