Learning from pests

If you find
A pest problem indicates that something was not done to head off the pest or to profit from the pest
You ask How do I beat this pest? at about the same time each year because the effects of the pest become noticeable at about the same time each year
Although pests are not teachers as such, for smart farmers, pests are
• not something to get rid of
• but something to learn from.

This is because a pest problem indicates that something was not done to head off the pest or to profit from the pest. The system is out of balance. If you ask
How do I beat this pest?
you will probably ask it most years.

And you will probably ask it at about the same time each year. That is because the effects of the pest become noticeable at about the same time each year.

If instead you ask
What allows this situation with this pest to be a problem for me?

you have taken the first step away from having a problem. You are looking at it differently. Instead of staying stuck on seeing the pest as a problem in itself, you are looking for the problem’s cause rather than the problem’s symptoms.
A problem with a pest or just the presence of large numbers of a pest is usually an indication that there is a need for a change in the management.

How the pest gets to be a problem usually holds the key to what is needed. Some possibilities are that your farming methods and approach

  • removed or limited a predator or competitor that was keeping the pest population under control
  • removed a food source that the pest prefers and now it is attacking your crop. This could be simply because the pest lacks an alternative source of food only at a certain stage and so it is moving into your crop then
  • have removed something that used to occupy that niche on your crop but in a way that didn’t harm your crop. For example, if you were a berry farmer growing several varieties of blackberry: You may have a disease that is not very virulent on your crop such as one of the milder blackberry rusts. If you change blackberry varieties, plant new bushes or do something else, you may leave that niche open. It can then get filled by one of the more virulent strains of rust that will damage your production. It may make sense to infect the new plants with the weak strain of the disease to keep the virulent one out.
  • are allowing the pest to complete its lifecycle when or where it wouldn’t normally
  • have allowed something to happen or exist that has speeded the pest’s lifecycle up
  • are providing a niche that suits the pest better than any other niche does
  • have pushed, encouraged or allowed something else into the pest’s niche and so it is being forced to move into an area where there is less competition. Unfortunately this is your crop
  • have introduced a pest (or someone else nearby has)
  • involve farming a crop in an area where the pest occurs naturally (or can occur fairly quickly) in large numbers. For example: heliothis/helicoverpa on any number of crops in Australia and Colorado beetle on potatoes in the eastern Rocky Mountains of the USA
  • have provided other conditions that allow it to increase in numbers.

Once you find which of these are contributing to the success of the pest, you can start to improve things.
These questions will help you to get a better grip on your pest problems and get ahead of pests:

  • What is a pest?
  • What is a crop?
  • In what ways does the pest have a negative impact on your crop, you or your farm?
  • What do you know about the pest?
  • What causes the pest?
  • What causes the pest problem?
  • What allows the pest to be so successful?
  • Having established this about the pest, what does this mean for your management?
  • What are the pest’s weak & strong points?
  • What are the crop’s weak & strong points?
  • What times is the pest vulnerable?
  • How does the pest spread?
  • How could you manage your crop proactively to cut pest problems?
  • Can you turn this problem into a benefit?

If you can answer all those questions, generally you can get ahead of the pest. Where you can’t answer a question, the pest has the chance to get ahead of you.

The key thing to work out is:
What can you take from a pest


what can you give to your desired plants and animals

to shift the advantage in your favor?

Once you understand how what you provide for your crop allows the pest to get ahead, you can do something to shift the balance back to you.

But as always in farming, you can compress all that questioning into this:

Why is there a space right here that this pest has managed to colonize?

If you can answer that for every significant pest you have, you can prevent those pests coming back.

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