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June 30, 2014

Local farmers learning new tactics to beat crop pests

Live Oak —

Two small farmers in Live Oak are partnering with University of Florida Extension to determine how cover crops can be used to manage insect pests.

In a newly funded On-Farm Research Grant, “Establishing and Evaluating Selected Cover Crops on Small Farms to Increase the Impact of Beneficial Arthropods on Crop Pests,” strips of sunflower and buckwheat are being incorporated into crop fields to act as trap crops for pests and as attractants for beneficial predatory insects and pollinators as well.

“We are trying to find out what we can do to limit our chemical applications,” said Bradley Hoover Jr., of Hoover Farms.

The young farmer owns 20 acres of about 50 different types of vegetables, all certified organically grown and sold in the wholesale market.

“The benefit of using plants to manage pests has not yet been realized on the farm in the past, and that’s what we are trying to do here,” said Hoover. “For example, what beneficial insects are attracted to buckwheat and how are they managing pests?”

In his field of tomatoes and peppers, Hoover, with the help of University of Florida Extension agents Bob Hochmuth, Elena Toro and program coordinator Lei Lani Davis, has planted rows of sunflowers and buckwheat along the field perimeters, as well as additional rows of buckwheat in the center. The study compares the cover crops to the control (no cover crop plantings) to see where they fit into integrated pest management practices.

Davis said that the sunflower attracts stinkbugs, specifically the leaf-footed bug, which aggressively attacks tomatoes and peppers. 

“The sunflower is acting as a trap crop, keeping the pest away from the farm’s cash crop,” said Davis.

In addition, buckwheat attracts a wide array of beneficial insects, including native pollinators.

Across town, near Wellborn, Scott and Billie Rooney with Rooney’s Front Porch Farm, are looking at the same two cover crops, but evaluating their effectiveness in fruit production. Stinkbugs easily make a meal of their U-pick blackberry and blueberry plants. Rooney’s Front Porch Farm is open for U-pick in June and much of July and they can be found at (http://rooneyfarm.com/) or 386-963-5037.

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