Eric Middleton knows that beneficial insects can provide ecosystem services to agriculture, ranging from pollination to pest suppression. As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, Middleton received a $12,000 NCR-SARE Graduate Student grant to compare how floral plantings in the margins of conventionally managed potato fields affect pollinator and predator abundance and richness, as well as biological control of Colorado potato beetle.
“By working on large, conventionally managed farms where floral plantings have been established, we can determine how these plantings perform for their intended goals of conservation in a real world setting. Do they actually provide a stable source of resources in agroecosystems that helps conserve species, or might growers be wasting their money?” posited Middleton.
The project is ongoing, but Middleton reported that floral plantings have led to significantly more Colorado potato beetle eggs consumed in the margins of fields (compared to unmanaged fields). However, the pollinator and predator abundance observed in the floral plantings has not dispersed far into adjacent potato fields.
In addition to reporting on his current research, Middleton took the time to reflect on how the grant project has influenced his growth as a researcher.
“When I first started working on this project and beginning my research, I was mostly approaching sustainable agriculture from the view of an entomologist. I focused on how insects can provide benefits to growers and how growers could promote said insects...by conducting my research on active farms, I’ve learned just how many factors need to be considered—soil type, pathogens, fertilizer applications, dealing with fungi, concerns about weeds, aesthetics and public perception, even state regulations about moving around roads.”
View Middleton's presentation on the project, from the 2018 Farmer's Forum, through NCR-SARE's Youtube playlist. Visit www.youtube.com/NCRSAREvideo for this and other videos.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant:
- Maximizing Pollinator Protection and Natural Pest Suppression in Minnesota Fruit and Vegetable Crops (GNC16-229)