A Viable Alternative to the Myth of Pesticides
It is getting more and more expensive to produce food these days. You don’t have to listen for long before someone tells you what to spray, how much to get out there, when and where to squirt it. But it is seldom that we consider the consequences of pesticide use, and probably even less often that we consider alternatives to pesticides. Research shows that these alternatives keep more money in farmers’ pockets.
We have a pest-centric society, and are terrified that diversity out of place will result in disaster. What we forget is that the way we manage our crops, livestock, and yards is what create pest problems. This isn’t to say that pests never need to be managed. But we could make it a heckuva lot harder for pests to gain a foothold on our farms using some simple practices.
Over the past 60 years, our farms have gotten bigger and simpler. We have replaced biological communities (plants, microbes, fungi, insects, etc) with monocultures. Biodiversity is important because it does things. It fertilizes the plant community, competes against weeds and insect pests, and balances soil and water relationships. When you eliminate diversity from a farm, you have to replace it with technology (fertilizers, pesticides, drainage pipe, etc).
We are ill fated if we do not respect the consequences of these technologies. Pesticides cost farmers and homeowners money, and can wreak havoc on the environment. That is not to say that technology is bad or that we should ban all pesticides. But too often we don’t even question what we are putting out there. And that has always been a poor business decision.
Okay, if Lundgren doesn’t like pesticides, then what the heck are we supposed to do about pests? A growing body of research suggests that we need to diversify our farms.
We just finished a couple of studies that reveal how farms that focus on increasing soil health and biodiversity are much more profitable than current monoculture production systems.
We looked at corn farms across 4 states, and found that farmers that were reducing tillage, eliminating insecticides, and using winter cover crops had 10-fold fewer pests than monoculture corn farms that were investing in GM varieties and insecticides. And the insecticide-free corn fields were twice as profitable.
In eastern SD, we looked at ranches that kept their cows in dense herds and moved them frequently, and abandoned insecticide use on their animals. We compared them to ranches that used insecticides on their cattle, and kept them on the same pasture for long periods of time. The insecticide-treated animals had substantially more maggots in their dung than the rotationally grazed ranches.
In both cases, insecticide use did more harm than good to the farm. But simply abandoning insecticide use wasn’t what made positive impacts on these farms and ranches. It was changing their practices in ways that encouraged biodiversity in their soils.
There is money being made off of simplified monoculture based food production, but less and less of it is being made by the farmers. The future of food production is not technology-intensive, it is knowledge intensive. Ecdysis Foundation and the Blue Dasher Farm Initiative is going to continue to generate knowledge that can help farmers survive in a changing world.
Dr. Jonathan Lundgren (PhD), Claire LaCanne, and Jacob Pecenka are with the Ecdysis Foundation north of Brookings, SD. Ecdysis’ mission is to conduct science and education on regenerative farming practices to improve our natural resource base and increase farm and community profitability