||Growing rye between vineyard
rows suppresses weeds — both by smothering and by producing
allelopathic substances that inhibit weed germination — and
attracts beneficial insects such as lady beetles to this vineyard
in Monterey County, Calif.
Photo by Chuck Ingels.
Before Steve Groff
tossed out his conventional pest controls in favor of a more comprehensive,
ecologically based strategy, his 175-acre Pennsylvania vegetable farm
attracted a parade of pests.
Now he plants
a winter cover crop of hairy vetch and rye and lets it grow 5 feet tall.
Each spring, he knocks it down with a rolling chopper, then transplants
his tomatoes into a thick mulch. Growing annual cover crops became a cheaper
and more effective way to control the pests that plague vegetable growers.
“I have yet to
use any insecticide for Colorado potato beetle. They don’t like the cover
crop mulch,” he says. In addition to adding nitrogen and organic matter
to the soil, the cover crop mulch also seems to stall early blight by
keeping disease organisms from splashing up onto the plants.
for us,” says Groff — and it’s just one of the fistful of tools he uses
to stymie pests.
farm nor any other will ever be entirely pest proof. But by completely
rethinking his farming practices from top to bottom, he has made his system
much more resilient and resistant to pests.
Like Groff, producers
across the country are changing their pest management practices to move
toward whole-farm strategies based on ecological principles to control
troublesome insects, weeds and diseases. Recognizing the importance of
many tactics rather than just one deceptively easy fix, researchers, too,
have begun testing new, comprehensive ways to control weeds, diseases
and insect pests.
Their intent mirrors
what early advocates of integrated pest management (IPM) believed — that
a single approach is a poor substitute for a system-wide strategy to control
pests. The ecological focus they emphasize goes beyond current IPM practices,
mimicking nature as much as possible in an industry that disturbs the
landscape in the process of growing food and fiber. This evolving breed
of researcher seeks to control pests in ways other than with expensive,
“easy-fix” chemicals that have unknown impacts on natural resources and
human health. Instead, they are creating whole systems that rely on diversity
and soil health to keep pests at bay.
A whole farm ecological
approach calls for rethinking management practices to design an improved
system that integrates ecological pest management into other aspects of
crop and soil management. Controlling pests should be linked to soil organic
matter management, soil nutrient management, tillage and efforts to lessen
compaction, as well as creating field boundaries, borders and buffers
designed to protect waterways.