Handling Bugs, Good and Bad
Although they are small, insects have a big impact on the environments around them. From pollinators helping to enable our food system to harmful insects that threaten food security and safety, insects are a part of life. For farmers it is about finding solutions to combat or deter pests from destroying crops while supporting beneficial insects like bees and other pollinators – this is done through integrated pest management.
Integrated pest management is a strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests and their damage through a combination of techniques such as crop scouting and rotation, biological control, targeted habitat management like increased plant diversity, modification of irrigation and tilling methods, and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and resistant crop varieties.
Much like battling weeds, farmers have a large portfolio of insecticides to choose from when determining how to handle harmful insects. Insecticides can be targeted to a specific species or offer broad protection when combatting insects. Farmers choose when, where, and how to apply insecticides with great care and consideration for biodiversity and environmental safety.
Biotechnology and GMOs
Another approach to insect management looks to protect crops from within the plant’s own DNA - often eliminating the need for topical insecticides and providing more precise control for deterring only targeted insects. To protect the harvest potential of plants and decrease pesticide use, insect-resistant traits in genetically modified plants using Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a naturally occurring soil bacterium, were developed.
Crops with a Bt trait have been modified to produce a protein that is toxic to various forms of insect larvae. Bt proteins have long been used as topical sprays in conventional and organic agriculture because they are effective and can be used safely. Crops that are genetically engineered to carry the Bt trait allow farmers to protect their crops while potentially eliminating or significantly decreasing the amount of insecticides sprayed – this also means that only insects that are eating the crops are affected, protecting beneficial and non-targeted insects in the ecosystem.
Another practice farmers have available to them in their fight against insects involves creating refuge areas. Refuge areas are designated portions of a field where plants that insects find appetizing are planted giving them a safe place to eat their fill while leaving the farmers’ crops alone. Typically, refuge areas are planted among Bt crops to avoid insect-resistance to the Bt gene. Digital farming and data analytics have the potential to help farmers strategically place refuge areas in and around fields based on the type of insect expected to feed there, how far the insect is willing to travel for food, and how hospitable the land is for growing crops.
Pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies, and flies play an important role in the cultivation of many crops, especially fruits, vegetables and nuts.
Bayer recognizes the critical role pollinators play for agriculture and the environment. To ensure pollinators have the foraging grounds necessary for survival, we work with farmers to set best practices like creating buffer and refuge areas and planting pollinator attractant plants.
Integrated pest management combined with recent ag tech innovations provide farmers with the opportunity to use less land while producing enough to feed the world’s growing population.