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Farmers Can Rely More on Mother Nature

Farmers may not fully appreciate the role played by nature in keeping pests off their crops. Pests have natural enemies that can do the job of pesticides and provide indirect benefits as well.

In order to judge farmers’ perceptions of the role that natural enemies of bugs can play through biological control, a group of scientists working in Spain and Germany conducted around 90 face-to-face interviews with cider apple farmers in Asturias, Spain’s main apple-growing region.

The orchards contain a high level of biodiversity such as pollinators and the natural enemies of bugs such as birds, but they also require extensive or semi-extensive management.

The researchers’ conclusions were displayed in a colourful poster featuring various farm helpers – birds, spiders, ladybugs — at the World Biodiversity Forum in Davos, Switzerland. They found that  farmers under-estimated the role of natural enemies in biological control. Furthermore, they were particularly unaware of indirect benefits.

So, while around 85% of those surveyed recognised that natural enemies could kill pests (a direct benefit) only about 30% understood the indirect benefit of them increasing quality production.

Interestingly, the farmers tended to say that benefits were less important for their own farms than for croplands in general. For example, while close to 60% recognised natural enemies were an alternative to pesticides generally, only around 40% said this was important when it came to their own orchards.

(The researchers were Rodrigo Martinez-Sastre and Marcos Minarro from SERIDA (Servicio Regional de Investigación y Desarrollo Agroalimentario), Daniel Garcia from the University of Oviedo, and Berta Martin-Lopez from Leuphana University)

Jeremy Gaunt is a freelance writer covering the World Biodiversity Forum for Future Earth