Nav: Home

Pest control: Wicked weeds may be agricultural angels

November 11, 2016

Farmers looking to reduce reliance on pesticides, herbicides and other pest management tools may want to heed the advice of Cornell agricultural scientists: Let nature be nature - to a degree.

"Managing crop pests without fully understanding the impacts of tactics - related to resistance and nontarget plants or insects - costs producers money," said Antonio DiTommaso, professor of soil and crop science and lead author of a new study, "Integrating Insect, Resistance and Floral Resource Management in Weed Control Decision-Making," in the journal Weed Science (October-December 2016).

"We are taking a renewed look at a holistic, sustainable integrated pest management (IPM) approach," DiTommaso said.

In corn production, for example, maintaining a few villainous milkweed plants in the middle of a cornfield may help minimize crop loss from the destructive European corn borer. The milkweed plants can harbor aphids (destructive sap-sucking flies) that produce a nectar food source for beneficial parasitic wasps Trichogramma. The wasps, in turn, lay eggs inside the eggs of the European corn borer, killing the corn borer eggs - reducing damage to the crop.

"Production management rarely considers the benefits of weeds in agricultural ecosystems," said DiTommaso. "Let's look at the big picture. If we open our eyes - even if it's a weed growing in the cornfield - we show it could be beneficial. Integrating weed benefits will become increasingly important, as pest management is likely to move from total reliance on herbicides and transgenic crop traits for control, because of increasing resistance of weeds to these products."

One additional side benefit for having a few milkweed plants in a field of corn is that it serves as a breeding place and food source for monarch butterflies. As of late, monarch numbers are down, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is evaluating a petition to have them protected under the Endangered Species Act.

While some growers elect not to use engineered crops, producers may see a return to IPM methods from two decades ago, as resistance could easily occur when relying on a single tactic.

With increasing no-till production, producers will inevitably see rebounds in perennial weeds - such as milkweed, the researchers said. Thus, some growers may be willing to tolerate a low milkweed population in favor of providing livable plant space for monarchs.

"Every organism in an agricultural system plays multiple roles," said John Losey, professor of entomology. "If management decisions are based solely on the negative aspects, yield and profit can be lost in the short term and broader problems can arise in the longer term."

Integration of the weed costs and advantages will become important.

"The benefits of weeds have been neglected. They're often seen as undesirable, unwanted. We're now beginning to quantify their benefits," said Kristine M. Averill, weed research associate.

"It's very important to recognize the benefits of all the species within the crop field - that includes both the crops and the weeds - not to mention cover crops. Weeds can offer ecosystem services, such as soil erosion protection and pollination services for the benefit of insects," Averill said. "They can be part of a restorative cycle."

Joining DiTommaso, Averill and Losey on the study were Michael Hoffmann, professor of entomology; and Jeffrey R. Fuchsberg, director of intellectual property at the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation.
-end-


Cornell University

Related Corn Articles:

Corn better used as food than biofuel, study finds
Corn is grown not only for food, it is also an important renewable energy source.
Blue and purple corn: Not just for tortilla chips anymore
Consumers today insist on all-natural everything, and food dyes are no exception.
Corn with a cover of grass
Corn raised for biofuel can result in eroded soils, as all materials are removed from the field.
Degradable electronic components created from corn starch
As consumers upgrade their gadgets at an increasing pace, the amount of electronic waste we generate continues to mount.
Study rewrites the history of corn in corn country
A new study contradicts decades of thought, research and teaching on the history of corn cultivation in the American Bottom, a floodplain of the Mississippi River in Illinois.
Corn yield modeling towards sustainable agriculture
Researchers use a 16 year field-experiment dataset to show the ability of a model to fine-tune optimal nitrogen fertilizer rates, and identify five ways it can inform nitrogen management guidelines.
Can you hear the corn grow? Yes!
Corn is the leading grain crop in the US but a lack of understanding about the mechanics involved in wind-induced corn stalk failure has hindered further improvements in corn production.
Researchers identify genes for 'Help me!' aromas from corn
When caterpillars attack, corn plants release volatile scent compounds, called terpenes, that attract parasitic wasps, whose larvae consume the caterpillar from the inside out.
Atrazine alternatives in sweet corn
Atrazine has been very good at killing weeds in corn fields for more than 50 years.
The corn snake genome sequenced for the first time
Among the 5,000 existing species of mammals, more than 100 have their genome sequenced, whereas the genomes of only nine species of reptiles (among 10,000 species) are available to the scientific community.

Related Corn Reading:

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump
by Michael Isikoff (Author), David Corn (Author)

Corn
by Gail Gibbons (Author)

Corn: A Global History (Edible)
by Michael Owen Jones (Author)

Corn: Origin, History, Technology, and Production (Wiley Series in Crop Science)
by C. Wayne Smith (Editor), Javier Betrán (Editor), E. C. A. Runge (Editor)

The Candy Corn Contest (The Kids of the Polk Street School)
by Patricia Reilly Giff (Author), Blanche Sims (Illustrator)

The Corn Grows Ripe (Puffin Newbery Library)
by Dorothy Rhoads (Author), Jean Charlot (Illustrator)

From Kernel to Corn (Start to Finish, Second Series: Nature's Cycles)
by Robin Nelson (Author)

Ultimate Guide to the Math ACT
by Richard F Corn (Author)

Gardeners' Guide to Growing Sweet Corn: How To Grow, Harvest and Preserve Sweet Corn (Gardener's Guide to Growing Your Vegetable Garden) (Volume 14)
by Paul R. Wonning (Author)

The Corn Wife: New Short Horrors

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Why We Hate
From bullying to hate crimes, cruelty is all around us. So what makes us hate? And is it learned or innate? This hour, TED speakers explore the causes and consequences of hate — and how we can fight it. Guests include reformed white nationalist Christian Picciolini, CNN commentator Sally Kohn, podcast host Dylan Marron, and writer Anand Giridharadas.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#483 Wild Moms
This week we're talking about what it takes to be a mother in the wild, and how how human moms compare to other moms in the animal kingdom. We're spending an hour with Dr. Carin Bondar, prolific science communicator and author. We'll be discussing a myriad of stories from her latest book, "Wild Moms: Motherhood in the Animal Kingdom", covering the exciting, stressful and even sinister sides of motherhood.