Farmers should stop treating agricultural pests as a problem, and instead realise they are a symptom of an unsustainable farming method, says a visiting expert in regenerative agriculture.
Dr Jonathan Lundgren, founder of Ecdysis Foundation and Blue Dasher Farm, was in New Zealand for an international workshop on conservation biological control of invertebrate pests, hosted by the Bio-Protection Research Centre, at Lincoln University.
He told workshop participants that healthy ecosystems did not have the pest problems that were present in monoculture agriculture.
“If you have a pest problem in your field, that’s your field telling you that something is out of whack. If all you are doing is reacting to a pest problem, then you are never going to get ahead – you’ve got to solve the underlying problem, not just the symptoms.”
The underlying problem was lack of biodiversity, Dr Lundgren said. “The way we approach our food production is way too simplified.”
Instead, he said regenerative agriculture not only solved pest problems, but was also more profitable.
Regenerative agriculture goes beyond sustainable agriculture, by trying to regenerate degraded land and ecosystems, rather than simply sustaining what is left. Farmers who follow regenerative methods use few if any pesticides, don’t till the land, practise crop and stock rotation that mimic natural processes, and encourage biodiversity.
Dr Lundgren said one study of the insect communities in cow dung found more diverse and more populous insect communities in the cow dung from regenerative farms – including more predators of pest species (mostly flies).
It also found that that the dung from cattle farms using common avermectin pesticides to control parasites had twice as many maggots as were found in the dung from regenerative cattle farms.
In another study researchers found conventional corn farms using pesticides had more than 10 times the number of pests as regenerative corn farms, which did not use pesticides. And in general, regenerative farms were more profitable than conventional farms – because they didn’t need as many expensive inputs.
Regenerative farming did not mean allowing the land to revert to its natural state, Dr Lundgren said. Rather, it involved trying to mimic the processes that work in nature.
“There are certain processes that work within the natural world, and we can use them to help us.
“And we don’t need to understand precisely all the mechanisms that make these systems and processes function – we just need to make them work for us.”