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Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

LITERATURE REVIEW ON BIOCONTROL

In her foreword to the book Hulot, J.F. and Hiller, N. (2021) ‘Exploring the benefits of biocontrol for sustainable agriculture – A literature review on biocontrol in light of the European Green Deal’, Dr. Faustine Bas-Defossez, External Impact Director at Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), states that “The science is unequivocal on the need to move rapidly towards a sustainable food and farming system in order to stay within planetary boundaries. The European Green Deal, in particular its Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, aims at setting the way towards that new system of food production and consumption. As a systemic and balanced alternative to chemical inputs in farming, biocontrol is certainly an enabler of that system change.

As an independent think tank striving for sustainability and science-based policymaking, we were very enthusiastic when IBMA approached us to conduct a literature review on the benefits of biocontrol for the environment and its wider economic, climate and governance impacts. We indeed believe that such evidence is needed for informed and sound decision-making on the European Green Deal objectives implementation”.

Reducing harmful pressures on the environment is key to creating a sustainable and healthy food system. The political and technical conversation about agricultural production and plant protection methods, especially in the context of the European Green Deal and the Farm-to-Fork strategy, increasingly revolves around the effects of different inputs on biodiversity and health.

Biocontrol, at its core, aims at not causing harm to the environment, non-targeted species and human health. The four technical categories of biocontrol are macro-organisms (invertebrates), micro-organisms (viruses, bacteria and fungi), semio-chemicals (pheromones) and natural substances. Compared to the typically linear vision to plant protection with chemical products, biocontrol considers the structural approach of understanding the farm ecosystem of life cycles, insects’ behavior and the influence of agronomic practices on plant health. Biocontrol thereby becomes a key enabler of the European Green Deal in forming part of a system approach to sustainable agriculture. Based on a literature review, this paper explores the roles of biocontrol in a pathway towards sustainable agriculture, with both a focus on biodiversity and health and its potential wider impacts.

Drawing from the literature, biocontrol functions for plant protection and supports of biodiversity by significantly reducing the chemical pressure in the field. As a targeted measure, it has few adverse effects on non-targeted fauna and flora, thereby contributing to the maintenance and improvement of agricultural biodiversity. Soil quality and health equally benefit from decreasing harmful residues and contamination. The use of biocontrol can thereby contribute to a favorable status of microbial communities. Lower negative impacts on human health can equally be identified, where biological approaches can deliver for the safety of both consumers and farmworkers. The effectiveness of natural pest control enemies can be amplified by creating ecological focus areas. In addition, biocontrol performs best in a system of sustainable farming practices. Growing evidence for the efficacy of biocontrol products, in the EU and around the world, resulted both in a higher EU approval rate and an expected market growth for products of around 15% a year over the next five years.

The deployment of biocontrol, by incorporating farmers’ experiences in the implementation process, paves the way for widespread adoption of Integrated Pest Management techniques, organic agriculture and agro-ecological farming. Based on the literature review, policy considerations include a need for a common EU definition for greater clarity in political discussions, an assessment of the legal framework, a push for greater field application and further research needs. While more research of concrete interactions between all categories of biocontrol and biodiversity support is suggested, the literature highlights the positive impact of biocontrol in lowering chemical residues, its benefits in favorable environments and its targeted use. As a non-chemical input, biocontrol can offer a systemic and balanced solution for sustainable agriculture. The video of the launching event can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1KXR12PBoM

Dr. Roma Gwynn

IAPPS Biopesticide Industry Representative

Director of BioRationale

E-mail: rgwynn@biorationale.co.uk  

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OPINION EXCHANGE 600042914

Minnesota is poised to lead an environmental breakthrough

Minnesota StarTribune

Pending bills would give communities local control over pesticides, safeguard protected wildlife areas and more. By Karin Winegar APRIL 6, 2021 — 5:29PM

NICOLE NERI • NICOLE.NERI@STARTRIBUNE.COMBees are one of the many pollinators harmed by pesticides.TEXT SIZEEMAILPRINTMORE

When I was a child in a southern Minnesota farm town, summers were filled with bird music, bee hum, firefly light and frog song. Then the city sprayed with what I presume was DDT. A great silence followed that fogger.

In 1962, marine biologist Rachel Carson’s bestseller “Silent Spring,” an indictment of DDT, appeared and led to a ban on the pesticide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972.

As an adult, I watched a growing range of chemicals being linked to rises in cancer, nerve damage, obesity, endocrine disruption, death and deformities (frogs, alligators) and die-offs (birds, pollinators, fish) in the natural world. As a journalist, I sometimes wrote about the effects of man-made chemicals and, in particular, the consequences of pesticide and herbicide use.

Now Minnesota stands on the cusp of passing some of the most enlightened legislation in the nation to protect human and ecosystem health. With a handful of bills slated to be heard in the Legislature, we may have reached a critical mass of scientific documentation, legislative smarts and public understanding that could result in a state that is cleaner, safer and healthier for people, pets and vital pollinators.

The pending bills give communities local control over pesticides (HF 718), set rules for pesticide-coated corn and soy seed to avoid contamination (HF 766), prohibit neonicotinoid systemic pesticides (aka “neonics”) and chlorpyrifos (insecticide) in protected wildlife areas (HF 1210), impose a statewide ban on chlorpyrifos (HF 670) and increase pollinator-lethal insecticide fees with revenue allocated to pollinator research (HF 408).

Decades of study by institutions including Cornell University, Harvard University’s School of Public Health, Rutgers University and consumer protection groups show correlations between pesticides and the current insect apocalypse, rises in cancer and pet illness and deaths, and damage to child development.

DDT may have gone, but neonics are far more powerful. Results of a study by the University Koblenz and Landau in Germany, published in Science magazine on April 1, finds “that the toxicity of applied insecticides to aquatic invertebrates and pollinators has increased considerably.”

“These are extremely challenging and complex issues, and Minnesota is offering a number of innovative ways to respond to much-needed protections,” says Aimée Code, pesticide program director of the nonprofit Xerces Society based in Portland, Ore. “Across the country people are seeking answers, and states are looking at what is happening in Minnesota. Minnesota has been creative in seeking solutions through such actions as the Lawns to Legumes program and efforts to label pesticides, to ratchet down pesticide use, to create more bio-sensitive and sustainable agriculture and to give farmers incentives to not use treated seed.

“Currently, [people] think pest control and pesticide are synonymous, and that pesticides should be a first line of defense, ” Code explained. “The vast majority of our invertebrates are foundational species that offer ecological services — everything from pest management, to help filtering our water, to pollination. Chemical pesticides have become ingrained in our agriculture and homeowner practices. We have to think of smarter solutions.”

As farmers, consumers and legislative bodies continue to get smarter about solutions, neonics were banned for outdoor use in the European Union in 2018. Legislation pending in New York, California, Alaska and Massachusetts would do likewise.

Mac Ehrhardt is co-owner of the Albert Lea Seed House, a third generation family firm that put certified organic seed on its menu in 1998. The latter is a small but increasing percentage of Seed House business, he says. And while a majority of farmers purchase seed there based on costs, others recognize the concerns around chemicals.

What is also new on the issue, Ehrhardt says, is “we are getting legislators brave enough to stand up and do what is right even though they know a percentage of constituents will be angry with them.”

The Minnesota bills reflect an understanding that what affects insects, plants and animals affects humans as well.

“The evidence is very clear that neonics can be found throughout the environment now in places they are not expected to be,” says Jonathan Lundgren, an agroecologist, director of ECDYSIS Foundation, CEO of Blue Dasher Farm in Estilline, S.D., and former U.S. Department of Agriculture award-winning entomologist. Lundgren’s recent study of white tail deer spleens demonstrates that the world’s most widely used pesticide class today has negative effects on mammals.

“This has implications for our ecosystem that farmers and legislators alike can appreciate. The response from the ag chem industry is to say their products are safe and helping farmers, but the data really doesn’t support that. Neonics and other chemicals simply aren’t necessary. Farmers are developing systems that make the pesticide question kind of moot. Regenerative farming is proving to be more resilient and more profitable. The scientists got it, and farmers are getting it.”

Karin Winegar, of St. Paul, is a freelance journalist and former Star Tribune staff writer.

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Cornell University

Cornell Chronicle

Graduate student Ricardo Perez-Alvarez checks cabbage plants for insect pests.

Landscapes surrounding farms affect insect pests, crop yields, study finds

A cabbage looper, a pest of cabbage plants.

Landscapes that surround agricultural lands strongly influence the dynamics of beneficial insects as well as insect pests on farms, which in turn affect crop yields.

Such were the findings of a Cornell study of New York farmlands, published April 4 in the journal Ecological Applications.

Many previous studies on how landscapes surrounding farms affect insect pests and crops have only considered one pest at a time. This study examined the effects of three cabbage pests – aphids, flea beetles and leaf-feeding caterpillars – wasps that feed on caterpillars, and crop yields. It also looked at three different types of landscapes that surround farms: agricultural lands, meadows and semi-natural areas (including shrublands, types of forests and woody wetlands).

“By considering multiple insect pests, [our study design] represented a more realistic situation for what farmers experience, we were able to disentangle some of these complexities,” said Ricardo Perez-Alvarez, the paper’s first author and a graduate student in the lab of Katja Poveda, professor of entomology and the paper’s senior author.

In the study, the researchers set up 22 experimental cabbage plots on farms across the Finger Lakes region of New York from June to September in 2014 and 2015. The details and management of each plot were the same, with no pesticides or insecticides used. Throughout the growing season, the researchers measured plant damage by each pest, density and abundance of parasitoid wasps, and they recorded crop yields at the end of each season.

The researchers expected that landscapes with a higher proportion of cropland and lower habitat diversity would lead to more specialist pests and a reduction in crop yields, according to the paper. Instead, they found that yields and the number of pests were best explained by the presence of non-crop habitats, such as meadows, in the landscape.

Specifically, when the proportion of meadows surrounding farms was high, the amount of infestation from cabbage leaf-eating caterpillars was lower, likely because of increased parasitism from wasps. On the other hand, these same plots experienced more infestation from flea beetles and aphids. The findings suggest that while some beneficial insects increased as a result of the non-crop habitats, so did the number of certain pests.

By considering the collective effect of multiple pest species on crop yields, management schemes need to consider joint effects of pest species to be effective, Perez-Alvarez said. Still, more detailed study is needed to better understand these dynamics. “There were some landscapes where the presence of meadows can have an overall positive effect from crop production, but in other areas, meadows can have a negative effect,” he said, perhaps due to the characteristics of the insect fauna that live in those areas.

“There is not a universal solution,” he added.

Brian Nault, professor of entomology, is a co-author of the study.

The study was supported by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture via the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station.


Story Contacts

Krishna Ramanujan

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Integrated Pest Management USDA Agricultural Research Service

Why integrated pest management is sustainable agriculture

For farmers, IPM is good business. They don’t want to pay for pesticide applications if they won’t do any good.

 

John Hart | Nov 21, 2017

After World War II and prior to the advent of integrated pest management that began in the 1970s and increased in the 1980s, farmers may have known what pests they had but they didn’t know the populations numbers, they didn’t know the stage of development and they didn’t understand how weather impacts pest populations.

As David Epstein, senior entomologist for USDA’s Office of Pest Management, puts it, prior to IPM, most farmers would use a spray program where their dealer brought them a list and said spray this pesticide at this time of year throughout the year. “IPM took us away from that,” Epstein said at a sustainability symposium sponsored by the Biological Products Industry Association in Orlando in October.

 In IPM, everything is based on monitoring. IPM is about knowing the pests, knowing the plant and knowing the barriers of control. “It also takes into account that farmers are running a business so there are socio and economic conditions that fit into this problem,” Epstein says.

For farmers, IPM is good business. They don’t want to pay for pesticide applications if they won’t do any good. But if a pest is there that will nibble away the bottom line, it certainly is a must to have choices to control those pests and that includes pesticides.

IPM acknowledges that famers use pesticides. Conventional producers use them and organic farmers use them as well, turning to products that are not synthetic but naturally sourced. “Farms are not natural ecosystems, and pests are going to have to be managed. We need pesticides to do it,” Epstein said.

The USDA entomologist laments that IPM is not lauded far and wide as sustainable agriculture. He says the systems-thinking approach that IPM promotes is certainly sustainable agriculture. IPM is all about the informed, wise use of crop protection products. It takes into account the financial, physical and human aspects of farm operations.

“The major consideration in sustainability is keeping the farmer in business to provide a safe and affordable supply of food,” Epstein said.

Scouting and the use of such tools as sweep nets isn’t really that fun, but it is a practice entomologists emphasize as key for integrated pest management. You need to know what pests you have and control them accordingly.

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SW FarmPress

In new study, researchers say agriculture can be important to honey bees


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Honey Bee
A new study indicates that agricutural production may be beneficial to honey bees, but care must be taken with pesticide selection and application.
Scientists at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture published results of the study in a recent issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology, titled the “Agricultural Landscape and Pesticide Effects on Honey Bee Biological Traits.” While not all news is good news according to the results of the study, some interesting discoveries were made.

Logan Hawkes 3 | May 09, 2017

It’s no secret that pesticides can cause harm to honey bee colonies, but a new study from University of Tennessee researchers has found that  under the right conditions, the overall health of honey bee colonies can benefit as a result of row crop production.

The number of honey bee colonies in the United States has declined by 45 percent over the past 60 years, not just because of agrochemical exposure, but also a result of various pathogens, parasites, and other factors such as changing farm demographics. The new study illustrates that while some aspects of farming represent a high risk for honey bee colonies, a determination that row crop farming can contribute to the well being of bee colonies is encouraging news to the agricultural industry.

Scientists at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture published results of the study in a recent issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology, titled the “Agricultural

Landscape and Pesticide Effects on Honey Bee Biological Traits.” While not all news is good news according to the results of the study, some interesting discoveries were made.With little argument, results of the study concede that pesticides are thought to be a principal factor causing honey bee decline, in addition to damages caused by the parasitic varroa mite. Many insecticides are toxic to bees, even at very low doses, and they may cause significant disorders at sub lethal doses in colony dynamics and the division of labor of honey bee colonies by affecting honey bee behavior, orientation, communication, and return flights.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

In addition to harmful pesticides, however, the study indicates some environmental factors play a central role in colony losses, such as habitat loss or changes, poor nutrition, inadequate foraging flora, and the transportation stress induced by the excessive “transhumance of honey bee colonies to provide pollination services.”

While pesticides are necessary for pest control in agriculture, increasing crop production and providing worldwide food security, care must be taken by farmers to minimize that damage through adequate control measures, a practice that row crop farmers have been making an effort to adopt in recent times. Those efforts are helping to reduce the negative aspect of pesticides, more precisely neonicotinoid class pesticides, and their capability of suppressing honey bee immune-competence that might lead to an impaired disease resistance capacity.

For the purposes of this study, a number of locations were utilized to test the effects of landscapes (urban versus agricultural) on colony health. Researchers measured three key elements of honey bee colony health—colony weight, brood production, and colony thermoregulation—in different landscapes and with different risks of pesticide exposure. Researchers then evaluated honey bee colony performance in replicated exposure groups in an effort to tease apart the relative effects of pesticides and environment on colony health.

The results indicated a number of factors. While additional external elements influenced colony weight and brood production, it was determined that hives in agricultural areas did exhibit better colony weight as a result of better forage opportunities. The cause of death among colonies varied depending on location, but it should be noted that pesticide exposure was accountable for pollinator death in colonies located near high production agricultural areas.

NUTRITION FACTOR

In conclusion, the study indicated honey bee colonies foraging in moderate and high production areas where row crop farming was practiced were clearly able to grow faster and to a larger size as a result of better access to sustainable nutrition sources than bees foraging in more urbanized areas. Better nutrition sources and nectar yields in farm areas helped to develop greater population size, which in turn enabled better colony thermoregulation.

The study further concludes that while non-farm areas may provide a less-toxic environment for honey bees, they may not provide sustainable foraging resources, leading to colony starvation. Thus, a trade-off appears to exist between increased food resources and the potential for exposure to pesticides in agricultural systems. Careful selection of pesticides and conscientious application of bee-toxic pesticides, however, should greatly reduce the risk of honey bee exposure and promote healthier hives under the right conditions.

Access the full article here.

( https://academic.oup.com/jee/article-abstract/doi/10.1093/jee/tox111/3231574/Agricultural-Landscape-and-Pesticide-Effects-on?redirectedFrom=fulltext )

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The  New York Times

Nov. 18 2014

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/19/opinion/a-sustainable-solution-for-the-corn-belt.html?_r=0

By  Mark Bittman

 

It’s hard to imagine maintaining the current food system without Iowa. Yet that state — symbolic of both the unparalleled richness of our continent’s agricultural potential and the mess we’ve made of it — has undergone a transformation almost as profound as the land on which cities have been built. A state that was once 85 percent prairie is now 85 percent cultivated, most of that in row crops of corn and soybeans. And that isn’t sustainable, no matter how you define that divisive word.

It’s easy enough to argue that one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world could be better used than to cover it with just two crops — the two crops that contribute most to the sad state of our dietary affairs, and that are used primarily for animal food, junk food and thermodynamically questionable biofuels. Anything that further entrenches that system — propped up by generous public support — should be questioned. On the other hand, if there are ways to make that core of industrial agriculture less destructive of land and water, that is at least moving in the right direction.

For now, many Midwestern farmers believe they are maximizing income by growing row crops in what is best called industrial fashion. (Many prefer the word “conventional,” but as common as it is we do not want chemical farming to be the convention.) This near monoculture, for the most part, fails to replenish soil, poisons water, increases flooding and erosion, spills carbon, robs indigenous species of habitat and uses fossil fuel resources at unnecessarily high rates. Despite this, for the last several years the economic pressure has been on farmers to plant more and more, even in marginally productive areas, land that requires more work and greater applications of chemicals for fewer benefits.

Incredibly, there is a scientifically informed, direct and effective planting tactic that can mitigate much of this. Called STRIPS, for (ready?) “science-based trials of row crops integrated with prairie strips,” it means just that: Take around 10 percent of your farmland (in most cases, the least productive part), and replant it with a mix of indigenous prairie plants. Then sit back and watch the results, which are, according to researchers and even some farmers, spectacular.

Lisa Schulte Moore, a researcher at Iowa State University, has been working on the principles behind STRIPS for more than 10 years. (In 2003, she worked with Matt Liebman and Matt Helmers, two other pioneers in making contemporary American agriculture more sensible; I wrote about Liebman’s work a couple of years ago.) “It’s well-known that perennials provide a broader sweep of ecological function than annuals,” she told me last week, “so our hypothesis was that if you put a little bit of perennials — a little bit of prairie — in the right place, you get these disproportionate benefits. That is, without taking much land out of production, you get a lot of environmental benefit.”

The research has produced impressive numbers: If you convert 10 percent of a field of row crops to prairie, soil loss can be reduced by up to 95 percent, nutrient loss by 80 to 90 percent, and water runoff by 44 percent. Biodiversity nearly quadruples, and some of those species are pollinators, predators of pests, or both. And, unlike some ecological management techniques, the process is not expensive.

In general, reports Moore, seven years into this process, “Though science is messy, it’s amazing how clear our results are.”

By the end of the year, there will be 17 commercial farms integrating prairie strips in Iowa and Missouri — a mere 1,000 acres or so (the corn/soy belt is about 170 million acres this year), although the program is increasing rapidly. And because it’s difficult to find fault with it, the approach has the potential to unite farmers and environmentalists in a way that few other things do.

Among the first adopters was Seth Watkins, a “conventional” (his description) farmer of corn and soybeans who uses his crops to feed his cattle near the southwestern Iowa town of Clarinda. His explanation of the system is eye-opening: “There’s a lot of land we’ve been farming that was never intended to be farmed, and those areas of poor production are perfect for prairie strips. You do that, and it doesn’t reduce overall production, and it increases environmental benefit.” (He also loves the way it looks.) Watkins claims that his profit has gone up “because there’s land where you can lose a dollar an acre on corn.”

In recent years, many Iowa farmers have believed that if they weren’t 100 percent “in” corn, they weren’t doing a good job. Because of the pressure to plant, many of them have expanded their cultivated areas beyond where it makes sense, creating erosion and runoff problems. Iowa is among the major contributors to the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone,” a direct result of fertilizer runoff into the Mississippi water system, and half of Iowa’s topsoil has been lost.

Some common solutions to these problems — like terracing, or simply patching areas where runoff is extreme — are expensive and/or temporary. But the STRIPS experiment seems to demonstrate that being 90 percent “in” results in unheard of environmental benefits with little or no sacrifice to the bottom line. And, says Watkins, “I’ve felt for years that environmentalists and farmers should be friends, and we are starting to see that in Iowa.”

Prairie strips are both cheap and permanent, and they come with little opportunity cost. There does not seem to be an argument against them, other than that they make an imperfect — or even destructive — system less so. But while we’re figuring out a better way to do things on a big scale in the Midwest, this is a sensible interim step.

 

 

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