Lady Beetle and Hoverfly on Buckwheat
Lady beetles and hoverfly larvae are natural predators of common corn pests like aphids and corn borers. Photo by Jermaine Hinds, SARE Outreach

In the United States, natural enemies provide an estimated $4.5 billion worth of pest suppression annually. To take advantage of this valuable service, avoid cropping practices that harm beneficials and instead adopt the practices that support them. In addition to perennials, annual cover crops like buckwheat and cowpeas can establish quickly and provide an early-season food source for natural enemies when their prey is typically scarce. The added ground cover harbors predators such as ground beetles and rove beetles that eat weed seeds and insect pests hiding in the soil. Include vegetative borders and corridors around crop fields to connect beneficials to field edges. Flowering plants established in a field or inside a greenhouse (either in designated rows or in a perimeter) can support natural enemies that are readily available to move into your crop to attack pests. Non-crop vegetation may also hide the crop from pest insects capable of colonizing the crop. Experiment with small plots of vegetational diversity and be sure to consult with local experts. 

Lady Beetle and hoverfly on buckwheat
An insectary border of buckwheat around a cornfield can attract beneficial insects such as lady beetles and hoverflies for pest suppression. Lady beetles and hoverfly larvae are natural predators of common corn pests like aphids and corn borers (upper left). Photos by Jermaine Hinds, SARE

Check out the University of Wisconsin’s guide Biological Control of Insects and Mites for more information on how to attract and support natural enemies for biological pest control. SARE’s bulletin Cover Cropping for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects has information on the ways you can use cover crops to support important natural enemies and pollinators, and to gain their other benefits. Again, Manage Insects On Your Farm covers whole-farm strategies to support beneficials and includes success stories that illustrate farmer innovations.