AWC - Funded Research

Beneficial insects in Prairie crops: quantifying the value and vulnerability of biological pest control

AWC contribution: $10,000
 

Summary:

Crop fields support hundreds of insect species, the vast majority of which are not pests. "Beneficials" eat pest insects and weed seeds, pollinate crops, and cycle nutrients. However, most insecticide use targeted at pests harms beneficials and the services they provide. This project will focus on the economic and ecological value of biological pest control by beneficials in Prairie crops. Results will help farmers make optimal insecticide use decisions for integrated pest management.


Objectives:

This project will provide a first step to tackling the challenge of quantifying the value and vulnerability of the beneficial insect community with the following main objectives specific to agroecosystems of the Prairie Provinces in Canada:

  1. Summarize existing information on Prairie beneficials and the economic value they provide to producers, and how they are directly and indirectly affected by insecticides. Develop a roadmap for future research needed.
  2. Compile and inventory existing published and unpublished data on what time of year and what crop stage Prairie beneficials are active and vulnerable to insecticide use, with an emphasis on wheat and canola. Develop timing models of selected beneficials to predict critical times of vulnerability in different Prairie locations. This objective will produce information producers can use immediately to reduce harm to beneficials.
  3. Transfer this information to producers to guide the insecticide use decision-making process.

 

Benefits to producers:

The economic value of beneficial insects and the impact of pesticide use on their function is a knowledge gap of prime importance in Prairie crop production. Addressing this gap will inform producers on the hidden costs of insecticide use in terms of services lost by harming beneficials. Reducing unnecessary pesticide applications will save producers money and time, prevent secondary pest outbreaks or rebounds, and slow down development of insecticide resistance. It may also reduce concerns of non-target effects of pesticide residues on other non-target species and human health. Therefore, more informed pesticide use has economic, social and environmental benefits.
 
The actions of just one beneficial species in Saskatchewan in the 1990s, that of the wheat midge parasitoid Macroglenes penetrans, resulted in reduced insecticide applications with an estimated value of CDN$ 248 million (= CDN$ 378 million in 2018). Imagine the potential benefit to producers by having the knowledge and tools to better capture the economic benefits for all beneficial species, in all crops systems, across all of the Prairies.