By Maddy Rohr, K-State Research and Extension news service
MANHATTAN, Kan. — Insects can benefit crops in many ways but can often be hard to attract or keep around agricultural fields. Kansas State University assistant professor in entomology Tania Kim is researching the benefits of prairie strips in Kansas’ climate to better utilize insects in agriculture.
Also known as conservation strips or floral enhancements, prairie strips utilize forbs and grasses to draw insects to benefit the ecosystem around crops, and decrease pesticide use.
Kim said prairie strips can be planted around the border or along contour lines within the fields depending on the slope of the land, or other challenges.
“Iowa State University found numerous benefits of prairie strips including enhancing water quality, reducing soil erosion and increasing carbon sequestration,” Kim said. “They have also looked at the benefits for wildlife, like birds, as well.”
While Iowa State is leading a study on research and application, Kim said Michigan State University is also looking at ways to bring pollinators to farm fields and support them in a sustainable way.
Of her own work, Kim said she “wanted to see if prairie strips would benefit drier landscapes in Kansas.”
Kim specifically is interested in the impact prairie strips would have on soybean crops.
“There could be that added benefit of increasing pollination, where wheat and corn doesn’t necessarily need pollinators. But also, there are several beneficial insects that are brought in that can reduce pests in soybeans.”
Kim said decomposers can also be attracted to the prairie strips, including ground beetles, dung beetles and ants.
“They feed on other insects, but they can also feed on seeds of weeds. There’s that potential for weed control as well,” Kim said.
Prairie strips may include high diversity mixtures of many forbs and perennial grasses.
“You want perennial plants that will flower throughout the season… a mixture so that they provide season-long floral resources for those insects,” Kim said.
While it may be a time investment for the prairie strips to be established, there is potential for increased pest suppression, which means less insecticide being sprayed, Kim added.
“If your crop relies on pollination, I think there’s that added benefit, so you don’t have to bring in honeybees. You can rely on the wild bees,” she said.
Some management is required to maintain plant health and growth.
“Much like our natural prairies, there is mowing that’s going to have to be done, or prescribed burns required on an annual basis,” Kim said.
Kim recently outlined her work on Agriculture Today, a podcast available from K-State Research and Extension. The website for Agriculture Today is www.agtoday.net