Wildflower strips allow the spread of pest-eating insects in the fields, thus reducing the need for pesticides.

Von roten Mohnblumen bis hin zu blauen Kornblumen sind diese Wildblumen, die sich durch ein Feld in der Schweiz schlängeln, kein malerischer Zufall. Sie bilden einen von 100 Streifen, die dort durch die Felder gepflanzt werden, um die natürlichen Räuber von Schädlingen zu fördern und so den Bedarf an Pestiziden zu reduzieren.

Tailor-made flower strips allow pest-eating insects to move through the fields instead of limiting themselves to the perimeter. In a similar project in England, flowers such as ox-eye, red clover, ragweed and wild carrot were planted on 15 large farms in central and eastern England. The strips are monitored for five years as part of a study by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the first of its kind in the UK.

Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems is a five-year £11 million UK government research investment that brings together scientists and “industry innovators” to work to make agriculture more efficient, sustainable and resilient to future shocks. The use of wildflower margins to support insects such as ground beetles, parasitic wasps and hoverflies has been shown to reduce pest numbers in crops and even increase yields.

Since GPS-controlled harvesters can now harvest very accurately, strips of flowers can be avoided in fields that are used as insect havens all year round. “Our research has shown that natural pest control falls quickly from the edges of large arable fields. We hope that sowing flower strips through the middle of the fields as ‘predator highways’ will bring the benefits of natural pest control to the middle of the fields,” said Prof. Richard Pywell of CEH.

Effective and resilient strategies for future crop protection must be truly holistic.

“The range of conventional pesticides used by farmers to control pests and diseases is shrinking. This reflects growing public and political pressure to reduce the use of pesticides due to concerns about risks to human health and the environment. In addition, more and more pests are becoming resistant to pesticides and fewer new pesticides are being developed as the cost of discovery and development increases”.

It is therefore a good time, says Pywell, to reconsider plant protection strategies. “Effective and resilient future crop protection strategies must be truly holistic and require the integration of a range of control methods – a prerequisite for this should be the promotion of good natural pest control”.

With an expected world population of 9.7 billion by 2050, scientists are exploring how more food can be grown with less environmental impact. Pywell and his team believe that sustainable intensification of agriculture could be a solution.

“This is an unprecedented effort in terms of scale and will allow us to understand under what growing conditions and for what crop protection options they can be effective in pest control” , he said. “Our goal is not to replace pesticides, but to offer other management options that will allow farmers to be less dependent on them.