Canola School: How to help beneficial insects help you

There are a lot of bugs on the prairie landscape — most are beneficial, but the few harmful ones tend to get most of the attention. Sometimes it’s important to take a minute to find out who your friends are.

There is a battle being waged in your fields, even if you can’t see it. In this episode of Canola School filmed at CanolaPalooza near Saskatoon, Canola Council agronomy specialist Gregory Sekulic describes some of the combatants and how you can help them help you.

Sekulic begins by talking about carabids, or ground beetles. Surveys have found that, typically, on any two hectare field, there are in excess of 50 different species of ground beetles. Sekulic says the ground beetles are “an incredibly diverse group of insects, none of whom do any damage whatsoever to the crop and all of whom are generalist predators for basically all of the insect species that are pests for us.”

Sekulic goes on to talk about what farmers can do to encourage the presence of these beneficial insects. It turns out the first thing is fairly straightforward: do not kill them needlessly. While it is important to use insecticides when needed, economic thresholds should be consulted to determine when and if to spray. Sekulic says what should be avoided is prophylactic, general applications. “Just because the sprayer is running, throwing in a jug of insecticide, just because it is cheap…” is not a best practice and can be more costly in the long run.

Economic threshold calculators are available on the Canola Council website. You will find them throughout the Canola Encyclopedia and CanolaWatch. Sekulic says “If you are not signed up for CanolaWatch, I do encourage you to sign up for it. It’s a weekly newsletter that highlights all the production issues as close to the minute as we can in a weekly newsletter.”

The second thing that can be done is maintain habitat. Most beneficial insects require some uncultivated land. If these areas of undisturbed soil can be widely distributed the bugs can be more widely distributed. As we begin to discover who our friends are, and how they are helping, we can understand the value of these undisturbed areas.