The soil our food is grown in plays a large part in the health of the plants we eat and contains essential nutrients the body cannot make. Pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, chemicals, and bioengineering are designed to kill the pests and weeds that invade agriculture, however they often destroy much more than that.
Only a small percentage of insects are harmful to humans, however even beneficial insects pose a problem to growers. Leaves that have been chewed or damaged are unappetizing to consumers, and insects need to be removed during harvesting. In the case of organic foods, the challenge is even greater because the use of chemicals is prohibited.
Organic growers rely on managing insects rather than eliminating them. This involves using a range of techniques and an approach that is fully compliant with Certified Organic Standards and the USDA’s National Organic Program. According to North Carolina State University’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems, success depends on learning the following information about invasive insects.
What does the insect need to survive? Growers can use biological information to determine what the insect needs and alter the environment in some way to deter the insect from living there.
How does the insect interact with the environment? Growers can use ecological information to determine how insects interact with their environment and create a pest resistant habitat.
How does the insect behave? Growers can use information about an insect’s behavior and create a management program to create a hostile environment.
Insects in organic food should not be seen in a negative light; they are a sign of a healthy soil ecosystem. However, organic standards don’t allow for insects in the end product and growers must employ a variety of management practices to control or eliminate crop pests, such as:
Pheromones that attract and trap pests or disrupt their reproduction
Insect pathogens or microbial control
Providing habitats for species that eat live pests
Natural insecticides, soaps, and botanicals
Crop rotation and spacing
Trap crops that attract insects away from cash crops
Organic farming creates soil with more organic matter and microscopic life increases leading to an increase in insect predators. Entomologists generally agree that monocultures foster more pest problems, so integrating a variety of crops is another way to control pest population.
source: North Carolina State University Center for Environmental Farming Systems