Ecological Intesification
February 21, 2022

As the demand for sufficient and high-quality food production increases, farmers are under constant pressure to improve and adapt. More emphasis is needed on farming approaches that minimize input cost while maximizing output. What if ecological processes are a way to do this? Biodiversity, especially insects, are often affected negatively by agriculture, but not if the farming method has a more ecological approach.  

A potential solution to limit ecological issues associated with agriculture is ecological intensification. Ecological intensification aims to use ecosystem services to sustain agricultural production while minimizing negative environmental effects such as runoff, water loss to evaporation, and leaching. This will eventually lead to reduced inputs such as fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides as the ecosystem created will take care of that, once fully restored. The use of cover crops are such methods that many farmers are successfully using to minimize these effects. This potential solution focuses on improving soil quality, promoting higher aboveground production and biodiversity, while attracting pollinators and other insects. 

Insects play roles such as pollinators, food sources for other insects or animals, decomposing organic matter, nutrient cycling, biological agents, water quality control and maintaining soil health. In highly intense and simplified agricultural systems, usually monocrop systems,  these ecosystem services are limited. The correct management of biodiversity in farming systems such as regen or organic can mean that agricultural processes can potentially function as close to natural conditions as possible, therefore increasing the quality and yield  of crops. Focusing on belowground activity and soil health will allow for aboveground crop stands to be of better quality. Using Agri- environmental schemes such as planting natural vegetation, hedgerows, wildflower strips in rows between fields and preserving grassland patches will increase insect diversity, contributing to production and improving insect numbers and not depleting them. These practices also do wonders for soil health.

The use of insecticides is useful in controlling insect pests, but also affects non- pest insects that are actually useful to farmers. Insects are generally seen only as pests in agricultural systems, but interestingly, insect herbivores contribute to about 50% of all described species of which only 0.5% of these species are described as pests. By increasing groundcover and cover crop diversity, it creates a favorable habitat for insects, attracting more natural enemies of the armyworms, aphids and corn rootworms such as assassin bugs, lady bugs, and lacewings. Unsprayed fields host an army of beneficial arthropods to be present which help in controlling pests but harsh spraying schemes reduce these insect numbers, allowing pests to prevail. 

A major challenge is transforming farm practices from conventional to regenerative/ecological. Studies have shown that there is a higher level of biodiversity on a piece of land that is using ecological intensification or other conservation- related practices. Furthermore, the production is higher and of better quality. The large-scale adoption of such a practice needs further scientific backing to convince farmers that this method is the way forward. For the future of agriculture, as well as insect conservation, such practices need to be implemented.

Campbell Dewett
Customer Success // Continuum Ag
(319) 201-6316

More Posts