Beneficial insects offer us much benefit throughout the year and help us to keep natural balance on crop pests. It is in good practice that we keep in mind when making decisions on the farm, the habitats, food sources and supplementary feeds that we need to incorporate or manage to make the most of our partners out in the field.
Biocontrol from beneficials is achievable, but habitat, food and environment need to be looked after for them to do so. If you are integrating schemes into your farming system and increasing soil health, please be aware of some of the impacts that cultivations may have on your increasing workforce out on the farm.
A good habit to be in when thinking of our beneficials is to keep in mind the SAFE approach – Shelter, Alternative prey, Flower-rich habitat, Environment.
The beetles and spiders are our first line of defence against common autumn pests such as Slugs, Aphids, Wireworm Larvae, Frit Fly and Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle. If we look after building populations of them once their environment if put into place, they will help to look after us.
Other farm practices that can help encourage and look after our beneficial insects are:
- The use of selective insecticides (if needed) – targeted for little residual toxicity.
- Timely application of insecticides when beneficials are less active and least vulnerable (early mornings and late evenings when pollinators are not active but before nocturnal insects become active).
- Use of spray buffer zones to help protect beneficials and non-target arthropods. Protect habitats on the edges of fields.
- Reducing spray drift of pesticides onto non-target areas.
- Calibration of spraying equipment for accurate application.
- Reduced or no-till systems. Tillage can reduce beneficial insect shelter and can injure insects overwintering in the upper layer of the soil or in plant residue on the surface.
- Use of cover crops. Including cover crops within the rotation helps to improve soil health and can provide vegetative cover that shelters beneficials within the field and encourage movement of the insects further into the field for a wider control of pests.
- Use of cover crops that flower. Offers supplementary feeding for the beneficials that need it.
- Companion cropping. Works effectively by adding nutrients to the soil while providing shelter, habitat, hunting grounds and resources for beneficial insects.
- Native field borders, hedgerows, grass buffer margins, wild-flower margins, beetle banks. All encourage beneficial insects to create a habitat and hunt for varied prey within. Beneficials generally have the capacity to move up to 50m into the field from the margins and so incorporating as many habitats around or within the field to maximise insect movement around the farm will greatly improve biocontrol from insects.
- Rotational grazing in grassland. Can be used to promote wildflowers and promotes further insect and plant diversity.