Insect Crop Combat: Beetles vs Aphids
October 24, 2018 Luke Cridland By Luke Cridland

Insect Crop Combat: Beetles vs Aphids

From the moment we plant our food in the ground to the moment we eat it, there’s always something else looking to get a bite too.

Whether fruit, veg or cereal, crops are a tasty morsel for many living things all the way through the process. Insects, for example, can be one of our biggest food foes. One method farmers use to protect their crops is something called beetle banks.

A beetle bank is a strip of land in the middle of a crop field specifically created for insects, not for crops. Beetle banks are intentionally put there to act as a home for aphid-eating insects and spiders. These beetle banks were the brainy idea of UK farmers from the early 1990s. The concept is simple, yet effective. Click through the slides below to find out more.

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So why do farmers want predatory insects in the middle of their field? That’s valuable land that could be used for crops, right? Well, aphids and a few other insects out there are also eating their crops, that’s why.

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Naturally, farmers want to get rid of these pests as quickly and as easily as possible, because their crops are being ruined. And natural predators can be a great way of ticking both of these boxes.

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But you may be thinking, why aren’t these insects already chomping up these aphids and their buddies, if they are indeed their natural predators? Well, many of these predatory insects can’t actually reach the pests in the middle of crop fields, with their homes being in the more naturally wild terrain surrounding crop fields. That might not seem that far to go for us, but in insect terms, that’s like going to another country.

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If the food is there though, surely, it’d be worth the trip and staying? Well, crop fields aren’t ideal places for these insects to live in either, especially during their hibernation over winter. And that’s where beetle banks come in. Here, a strip of land is put aside in the middle of a crop field to plant grass (tussock grass, to be exact). Tussock grass is known for breaking out into big tufts, and they act like insect apartment blocks for these little guys.

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So, with insects being able to stay warm and dry in beetle banks over the winter, a bug city is formed. And come summer, these insects pay the rent for their new homes by munching away on all the pesky, crop-eating bugs next door in the crop field.

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This is great for farmers, as not only do beetle banks significantly reduce crop damage, they are a control method that does so without a drop of pesticide!

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So, there you have it, beetle banks are an innovative agricultural technology as they actually use what nature has given them to their advantage, helping in the effort to keep our food just for us (sorry bugs). Their benefits are starting to come to the attention of others too, with the Netherlands introducing beetle banks in 2017 and Belgium doing the same in 2018.

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What do you think? Is this an inventive form of biocontrol or a waste of farmland, that could otherwise be used for more crops? Give us your thoughts below!

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