James Pinsky: Farmscaping: Turn your farm into an insect killing party place

James Pinsky

 

Spring is here, and so are the bugs.

For most of us, the added companionship of pesky flying insects, which buzz, bite and bother our outdoor activities, is nothing more than a nuisance.

For farmers, however, insects can be much more than annoying. They can be financial saboteurs eating away profit margins with every bite they take out of crops.

Still, as devastating as the wrong insects can be, farmers don’t have the time to run around their properties with a fly swatter to eliminate bug problems. So, many farmers do the next best thing, they create a complete ecological wonderland of hedgerows, insectary plants, cover crops, and water reservoirs to attract and keep some of nature’s best insect assassins like birds, bats, spiders, reptiles and other pest predators to patrol their farms.

The practice is known as farmscaping.

According to July 2013 article on farmscaping written by Geoff Zehnder, Clemson University, “farmscaping is a whole-farm, ecological approach to increase and manage biodiversity with the goal of increasing the presence of beneficial organisms.” Zehnder said many pest populations could be managed by enhancing the efficacy and local abundance of the existing community of natural enemies through modification of the environment, a concept that has been termed “conservation biological control.”

In other words, if you design your farm correctly, Mother Nature can provide all of the free expert bug-killing labor you’ll need. In fact, not only would you not have to pay bats, birds, snakes and spiders to kill your bugs, but they don’t need health care coverage, child care or holidays off. Who knows, if you’re a good enough host, chances are they’ll send you Christmas cards for throwing such tasty and fun food parties all year long. After all, to us a swarm of mosquitoes is torture but to a single bat, which can chow down on about 1,000 mosquitoes an hour, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Aside from keeping your local bat population well fed, Zehnder said by carefully planning and implementing a farmscaping system landowners can reap quite a few benefits like:

• Reduced need for pesticides and savings in pest management costs. The pest suppressive influence of an effective farmscape will perpetuate as long as the farmscape provides suitable habitat for natural enemies.

• Increased habitat and wildlife diversity on the farm. A carefully planned farmscape increases overall ecological diversity and improves habitat for plant and animal species.

• Farmscaping is adaptable to any farm plan. Insectary plantings can be placed adjacent to crop fields, but they can also be placed next to paths or roadways, on steep banks, along drainage ditches, or in buffer zones.

• Erosion control/soil building. Farmscapes placed in contours between fields, steep ditches, or places that are easily eroded gives stability to the soil. Farmscaping can also be used as a filter strip to prevent water runoff and soil erosion. Plants used in farmscapes contribute to healthy soil by adding nutrients and organic matter.

• Added value. Farmscape plants like cut flowers and medicinal plants can be sold at market to generate added income for the farm. (Note: Farmscape plants grown in designated buffer zones cannot be sold as “organic,” but they may have market value. Records should be maintained of all sales of crops harvested from buffer zones.)

If the thought of trying to manage your insect problems has been bugging you, then you might want to consider farmscaping your property. To learn a lot more about farmscaping, feel free to give our newest conservation specialist, Nick Livesay, a call at (540) 465-2424 ext. 102 or send him an email at nick.livesay@lfswcd.org

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.  Contact him at 540.465.2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.