Natural predators key to beating crop pests

Natural predators key to beating vegetable crop pests

Horticulture
HERO: Beneficial insects such as ladybeetles, which feed on many insect types, have the potential to counter damaging pest populations.

HERO: Beneficial insects such as ladybeetles, which feed on many insect types, have the potential to counter damaging pest populations.

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Vegetable growers are wanted to help investigate beneficial insects.

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BOLSTERING the ranks of the "good guys" in the insect world to help battle crop-threatening pests is the idea behind a new research partnership.

What's more, growers are being encouraged to get involved.

A Hort Innovation funded project will aim to find more natural and sustainable ways to manage damaging pests vegetable crops. .

The desired result is for growers to produce cleaner and greener crops under the pressure from various drivers including:

  • consumer preferences
  • changes in maximum residue limits in export markets
  • the reduced availability of insecticide products (as a result of registration restrictions)
  • and pests becoming chemically resistant.

Hort Innovation research and development manager, Ashley Zamek, said beneficial bugs may play a key role in the solution.

"Chemical use in agriculture is unavoidable, but for some time now there has been mounting pressure to reduce reliance on the spraying of insecticides to control vegetable pests," she said.

"This research project looks at how we can support beneficial insect populations in vegetable crops through approaches that will complement traditional farming by developing methods that are simple to implement, compatible with mainstream farming operations and can help drive down costs."

Ms Zamek said preliminary results found that "beneficial bugs" such as ladybeetles and predatory mites, which fed on many insect types and were commonly found in vegetable crops, had the potential to counter damaging pest populations.

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"The research team found that beneficial insects were more abundant in organically grown crops than in conventional crops where synthetic insecticides had been used," she said.

"The research also found that the number of beneficial insects present was heavily influenced by surrounding vegetation.

"Compared with densities in field centres (taken to serve as a 'baseline'), beneficial insects were more common in the margins of these crops if adjacent to shelterbelts.

"These results are similar to those found overseas where farmers have now implemented companion planting with profitable results.

"Results have indicated that this enhancement of beneficial insects actually helps to control pest populations, demonstrating the potential benefits of promoting biodiversity in crops.

"This project will ensure there are viable options for Australian growers to implement this work for our environment that does not affect the productivity of the crop."

The next phase of this research will trial the best way to integrate companion plant resources to promote beneficial insects for sweet corn and brassica crops as case studies.

Vegetable growers wanting to participate can contact the project lead, Professor Geoff Gurr at ggurr@csu.edu.au or (02) 6365 7551.

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