Reducing insecticide use in broad-acre grains production: An Australian study
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Prophylactic use of broad-spectrum insecticides is a common feature of broad-acre grains production systems around the world. Efforts to reduce pesticide use in these systems have the potential to deliver environmental benefits to large areas of agricultural land. However, research and extension initiatives aimed at decoupling pest management decisions from the simple act of applying a cheap insecticide have languished. This places farmers in a vulnerable position of high reliance on a few products that may lose their efficacy due to pests developing resistance, or be lost from use due to regulatory changes. The first step towards developing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies involves an increased efficiency of pesticide inputs. Especially challenging is an understanding of when and where an insecticide application can be withheld without risking yield loss. Here, we quantify the effect of different pest management strategies on the abundance of pest and beneficial arthropods, crop damage and yield, across five sites that span the diversity of contexts in which grains crops are grown in southern Australia. Our results show that while greater insecticide use did reduce the abundance of many pests, this was not coupled with higher yields. Feeding damage by arthropod pests was seen in plots with lower insecticide use but this did not translate into yield losses. For canola, we found that plots that used insecticide seed treatments were most likely to deliver a yield benefit; however other insecticides appear to be unnecessary and economically costly. When considering wheat, none of the insecticide inputs provided an economically justifiable yield gain. These results indicate that there are opportunities for Australian grain growers to reduce insecticide inputs without risking yield loss in some seasons. We see this as the critical first step towards developing IPM practices that will be widely adopted across intensive production systems. © 2014 Macfadyen et al.
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