For the past decades, farmers have faced the difficult decision to use pesticides to protect their crops or to produce vegetables and more natural products by exposing themselves to pests that could ruin production.
Despite the dilemma, the priority for the vast majority of farmers was clear: to use pesticides (despite its many negative externalities). But in turn, consumers were becoming more demanding.
The consequence is a market for pesticide-free products that, in parallel to the heyday of vegetarianism and veganism, has created groups of consumers who are very concerned about the origin and production model of their food.
How can farmers square the circle, combat pests while bringing pesticide-free vegetables and cereals to market? So far, various responses have been experienced. The last one is simple: plant flowers.
This is at least corroborated by the ASSIT project carried out in the United Kingdom.
ASSIST is an initial £ 11 million five-year research program that, with the support of the agricultural industry, will meet the challenge of feeding growing populations without causing unacceptable environmental damage.
The Center for Ecology and Hydrology in partnership with Rothamsted Research and the British Geological Survey will develop innovative agricultural systems in collaboration with industry and stakeholders to:
- Increase the efficiency of food production.
- Improve resistance to extreme events.
- Reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture.
For five years, a group of researchers monitored various crops in which they planted several rows of native flowers. The flowers were planted indoors, an unusual sight, and the underlying idea was simple: allow local insects and predators to easily access other insects that could ruin the harvest (and with it, the economy of the crop). farmer).
The result has been positive. As explained in the study, the rows of interior flowers (strategically placed a hundred meters from each other) encouraged the arrival of natural predators such as native species of bees, wasps and beetles of various conditions. Being located in the center of the field, the radius of action of the bugs was wide enough to attack and devour any insect-plague that they found in their path. A harmonic solution.
The work was carried out over a period of five years in fifteen separate fields spread throughout the center and east of England. The success of the preliminary project has encouraged a new one that will be rolled out over the next few years. In it, the rows of flowers will be around six meters long and will not occupy more than 2% of the arable area. Their usefulness resists the passing of the seasons, and they remain despite the crop rotation system (from wheat to barley).
Traditionally, flower fields were far from or around fields worked by farmers. From an invertebrate mobility point of view, it was a bad idea: although the local predatory fauna could kill nearby pests on the outskirts of the crop, it was difficult for them to reach the heart of the crop (think of a humble beetle and its small radius of action). As revolutionary (and simple) proposal as moving flower ecosystems to the center seems to have paid off.
Switzerland has been applying similar solutions for years (always experimentally) in a handful of crops. There, researchers have used a range of between thirteen and sixteen species of flowers (such as cornflower, European coriander or poppy) to create spaces where natural predators can act. The results have also been positive and appear to have had a beneficial effect not only on reduced harvests, but on local ecosystems and productivity.
Many Swiss farmers and farmers are eligible for an aid scheme to ecologically compensate their crops. None of the projects can, at the moment, completely eliminate pesticides, and in the British case one of the main challenges is to bring natural flowers / predators to the center of crops without being affected by pesticides. But they have managed to significantly reduce its use and advance a future, perhaps, without so many chemical components.
Long live the bees, one more time.
By Andrés Mohorte