Globally, farmers use more than 1,000 different types of pesticides to ensure insects don’t damage or destroy their crops. Yet, many of these pesticides are inorganic and toxic to humans and the earth. Consequently, many farmers are developing organic pest management strategies to preserve their produce and the health of the planet.
Here are a few ways you, too, can develop an effective approach to integrated pest management.
Sanitize and Till
Dead leaves, stalks, and other debris are the ideal breeding ground and hibernation spot for insects. Therefore, it’s best to sanitize your field by pruning dying portions and burning them before bud-break in the spring.
Additionally, if field erosion isn’t a concern, consider tilling the earth to disturb insect pests. Turning over the soil will expose grubs and adults to harsh temperatures and predators like birds and spiders.
Adjust Planting and Harvest Times
It’s also possible to minimize the development of pest populations by adjusting planting and harvesting times. For example, planting a crop before pests hatch in the spring will ensure rapid seedling emergence and growth before it faces exposure to hungry insects.
Likewise, harvesting later or earlier in the season may keep pests at bay. For instance, if alfalfa farmers notice that at least 40% of stem tips show signs of weevil feeding damage, harvesting early could save the crop.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, too much fertilizer may actually kill your crops. If the fertilizer contains high levels of nitrogen, it may cause rapid plant growth, attracting pests that love to feed on the sap of new stems and leaves. In turn, feeding damage will cause the plants to die, creating even more places for insects like aphids and spider mites to breed. This only exacerbates the infestation.
Most organic farmers use natural and eco-friendly chemicals to control pests. Thus, you might use an organic pesticide to ward off insects. Of course, doing so could kill beneficial bugs that prey upon pests. Moreover, if you spray chemicals too often, some bugs may build resistance, rendering organic pesticides useless. Therefore, it’s best to use chemicals sparingly or in conjunction with more natural solutions.
Poor water management can also lead to infestation and predispose some plants to certain pests. For instance, if the soil is overly moist, millipedes, and other insects that thrive in damp soil may expand their populations and begin feeding on crops.
On the other hand, if the soil is too dry, sod webworms or billbugs may destroy your crops — and your profitability. Therefore, proper irrigation is a crucial step in implementing an organic pest management strategy.
Partner With Predators
Another organic solution to insect infestation is to introduce some predators to your field. Bring in ladybugs to battle aphids or introduce wasps and honeybees to ward off larger pests. You might also incorporate insectary plantings into your field, allowing them to flower and naturally attract beneficial insects and pollinators.
Include a wide variety of plants with different flowering periods to promote organic pest management year-round.
Biodiversity also has great potential to manage pests. Insects are more likely to converge on concentrated crops, especially when they’re the only food source nearby. By diversifying plantings and intercropping, you can distract these pests and prevent them from munching on your corn or soybeans alone.
While this option won’t eradicate the bugs or completely deter them from eating your harvest, it will confuse them and increase your yield.
It’s usually impossible, not to mention expensive, to completely eradicate pests, even if you were to use inorganic methods. However, total annihilation isn’t your goal. Your goal is to manage hungry insects. By incorporating a few of the tactics above, you can develop a pest management system that works for you — an organic one that you can feel good about implementing.