Cover Crop - Pest Management

Pest Management

Some cover crops are used as so-called "trap crops", to attract pests away from the crop of value and toward what the pest sees as a more favorable habitat (Shelton and Badenes-Perez 2006). Trap crop areas can be established within crops, within farms, or within landscapes. In many cases the trap crop is grown during the same season as the food crop being produced. The limited area occupied by these trap crops can be treated with a pesticide once pests are drawn to the trap in large enough numbers to reduce the pest populations. In some organic systems, farmers drive over the trap crop with a large vacuum-based implement to physically pull the pests off the plants and out of the field (Kuepper and Thomas 2002). This system has been recommended for use to help control the lygus bugs in organic strawberry production (Zalom et al. 2001).

Other cover crops are used to attract natural predators of pests by providing elements of their habitat. This is a form of biological control known as habitat augmentation, but achieved with the use of cover crops (Bugg and Waddington 1994). Findings on the relationship between cover crop presence and predator/pest population dynamics have been mixed, pointing toward the need for detailed information on specific cover crop types and management practices to best complement a given integrated pest management strategy. For example, the predator mite Euseius tularensis (Congdon) is known to help control the pest citrus thrips in Central California citrus orchards. Researchers found that the planting of several different leguminous cover crops (such as bell bean, woollypod vetch, New Zealand white clover, and Austrian winter pea) provided sufficient pollen as a feeding source to cause a seasonal increase in E. tularensis populations, which with good timing could potentially introduce enough predatory pressure to reduce pest populations of citrus thrips (Grafton-Cardwell et al. 1999).

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