Boosting beneficial bugs
LARIMORE, N.D. — Every farmer and gardener knows that insects can do great damage to growing crops. Jennifer Hopwood hopes to help ag producers better recognize and utilize the bugs that help crops.
"We really want to increase understanding of the benefits that insects bring," said Hopwood, senior pollinator conservation specialist with the Xerces Society.
Hopwood was the primary instructor at "Good Bugs," an educational program held Aug. 15 in Larimore, N.D., and again Aug. 16 in Carrington, N.D. The program was essentially the same at both locations, though with varying speakers, most of whom came from North Dakota State University extension and the U.S Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service
Agweek attended the session in Larimore, which attracted about 30 people.
Morning activities in the day-long event focused on classroom instruction in conservation biocontrol, common beneficial insect groups, designing and restoring habitat for beneficial insects, and NRCS conservation practices and programs.
Field demonstrations dominated the afternoon. They included field habitat assessments, insect monitoring activities and horticultural considerations.
Many people, including crop producers, tend to focus on insect pests; but "the vast majority of insects are beneficial. They help recycle nutrients, help decompose plant and animal waste, contribute to soil quality by aerating the soil profile, provide pollination, attack crop pests and provide a food source for fish, songbirds and other wildlife," according to the Xerces Society.
The group describes itself as "as a science-based conservation organization working with diverse partners." Its name comes from the now-extinct Xerces Blue butterfly.
There's growing public awareness that some insects are beneficial, Hopwood said.
Among the beneficial insects are predatory ones, including lady beetles (also known as ladybugs), that eat pests; parasitoid insects such as some wasps that kill their pest insect hosts; and pollinators, of which bees are the best known.
Increasing yields through better pollination is one of the many ways in which insects can help crop production, said Travis Prochaska, a Minot-based NDSU area extension specialist in crop production and one of the presenters at the Larimore event.
Making greater use of beneficial insects ties into growing interest in soil health, he said.
Providing more and better habitat for beneficial insects is important, Good Bugs presenters said.
For example, lady beetles eat bad insects in crops during the growing season. But they also need other food sources found in native vegetation after the crop is harvested, habitat in which to overwinter, and pollen and nectar on which to feed in the spring. Better year-round access to those other habitats will contribute to pest control in crops, according to information from the Xerces Society.
Gardeners also benefit from promoting better habitat for good insects, said Esther McGinnis, NDSU Extension horticulturist and a presenter at the Larimore event. She advises county extension agents and coordinates horticultural programs in the eastern half of North Dakota, and also oversees the state Master Gardener program.
Both the extension service and the NRCS can help farmers, gardeners and others who want to learn more about beneficial insects, said Kevin Gietzen, who attended the Larimore event.
He's an NRCS district conservationist with the Grand Forks (N.D.) County Soil Conservationist District.
"We don't have all the answers. But we're learning — and we know the (beneficial insects) can help," Gietzen said.
Among the places to learn more about beneficial insects:
• The Xerces Society, https://xerces.org/.
• The Entomological Society of America, https://www.entsoc.org/.
• The NRCS's guide to "Beneficial Bugs," including tips on "how to spot the good guys: www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/newsroom/features/?cid....