Current crop protection strategies are heavily reliant upon chemical pesticide, however researchers are testing an alternative pest control measure to move the industry towards ecological beneficial and sustainable farming.
At a farm of oilseed rape near Buckingham this solution is already in practice, the crop field has been striped with rows of wildflowers. The wildflowers, it is hoped, hold the solution.
Wildflowers play host to a variety of natural predators to common crop pests, such as parasitic wasps which feed on aphids. The trouble with parasitic wasps is the adults reliance upon pollen and nectar as the principle food source. For a single crop planted across acres and acres there simply is not enough food for these predators to survive. Farmers have been planting wildflower boarders for their crops for many years, more for biodiversity than pest control; the issues of predator resilience and sustainability persist due to the range limitations of predatory insects, beetles for example will rarely pass more than 50 meters from their winter refuge, making large tracks of arable fields beyond their reach when harboured in wildflower borders.
Strips of wildflowers on the other hand allow the small predatory insects to easily travel from one strip to the next, giving them scope to cover the whole field with ease, targeting the whole crop and all the crop pests. Strips of wildflowers also encourage sustainable numbers of pest predators and ensure their continued survival. This is all made possible from advances in farming technology, such as precision agricultural systems based on GPS mapping, which allow in-field habitats to be implemented with ease and protected throughout the year.
A similar study to the Buckingham site was conducted in Switzerland on fields of winter wheat planted with strips of poppies and other flowers. The study found a 61% reduction in leaf damage, estimations note that the right mix of wildflowers could increase yields by 10%, making this approach economically self-sustaining and profitable.
While researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology say this will not necessary lead to pesticide free farming, it will reduce the number of pesticide sprays required by maintaining pest populations at low levels, making modern farming a kinder touch to our environment.
With technological advance we can rethink our approach to farming, moving towards a more ecological approach with active enhancement of the underlying ecological processes that benefit crop production. All through the planting of flowers.