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Incorporating Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management practices on farms

A key characteristic of most natural ecosystems is the complex yet balanced interactions between organisms.

Ecosystems house a diversity of insects that fill a range of ecological roles including pollinators, pests and biological control agents. Having a dense and diverse range of pollinators will ensure the pollination of all plant species, while biocontrol agents will keep pest species populations in check.

Agricultural systems are disturbed ecosystems. While modern agricultural systems are important for delivering large amounts of food to support human populations, they are seen to be most economic when based on large monocultures. However, monocultural systems represent greatly simplified ecosystems often lacking in insect diversity. Moreover, by providing large amounts of one type of food, some insect populations will thrive on the single source of food rapidly increasing to become pests. This, in turn, often requires the application of chemical pesticides to suppress pests and restore high yields. The use of pesticides can provide a short-term gain but for long-term price. The broad-spectrum chemicals commonly applied for pest control also kill off useful insects carrying out beneficial roles. Pollinators and pest control agents are the key beneficial insect groups affected.

The solution requires looking back to nature to re-establish a balance where populations of beneficial insects can thrive under Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices. Traditional IPM uses a range of management methods including pest-resistant plant varieties, refuge crops for beneficial insects and trap crops for pests, along with mechanical and biological control agents. Use of selective chemical pesticides is also included in some IPM practices. However, IPM is not explicitly “pollinator-friendly”, thus in recent times the IPM concept has been extended to Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management (IPPM) by adding practices that increase the diversity and density of pollinator populations.

IPPM Practices

Pollinator insect groups typically include European honeybees, native bees, flies, butterflies, hover flies, beetles and moths. Key practices to support these groups revolve around agroecosystem diversity and habitat modification, using pest and pollinator-attractive crop cultivars and pollinator-friendly cultural practices.

  • Diversifying gardens and agricultural land: Increasing the number of crops and non-crop plants per unit area and time, as well as protecting and restoring natural habitats, will provide sufficient resources to support a diversity of pollinators. High plant diversity and irregularly shaped areas of natural and semi-natural habitat have been shown to attract and sustain beneficial insects. Mixtures of flowering plants in a planted meadow next to a crop will also extend the bloom period.
  • Using pest-resistant cultivars that are also attractive to pollinators: This has been shown to increase profit through increased yields and reduced pest control costs.
  • Pollinator-friendly cultural practices: These include the use of cover crops, companion plants, modifying crop rotation and tillage, organic fertilisers and adequate soil moisture.
    • Sowing pollinator-attractive cover crops with a bloom period synchronized with peak pollinator activity will enhance the diversity and density of pollinators available in an area.
    • Companion crops comprising a crop of trap plants, can be planted to divert damage from plant-feeding and egg-laying pests.
    • Normal crop rotation and tillage practices may disrupt some predators and pollinators that require bare soil to complete their life cycle.  By incorporating no-till practices, you can enhance populations of pollinators such as the many species of native ground-nesting bees.
    • Organic fertilisers provide the slow release of valuable nutrients while also improving the physical properties of soil. Crops grown organically have been shown to significantly increase the density of solitary bees. 
    • Adequate soil moisture can increase nectar production and the visitation of pollinators to crops.

Further Information on pollinators, including planting guides for specific geographical areas and information on how to encourage pollinators into your garden or farm is available in the Powerful Pollinator series. These can be downloaded at www.wheenbeefoundation.org.au/pppg

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