Urban agriculture is hard work— I found that out first hand the first time I wielded a pitchfork to turn compost as farm manager of the NYU Farm Lab— so one can imagine why conventional farming practices involve the use of pesticides to make a farmer’s life easier. As you may know, pesticides are substances used to control weed species and harmful insects to prevent plant diseases and increase crop yield in a cost effective manner. Although pesticides make farming “easier,” pesticides can have adverse effects on human health and even the health of beneficial pollinators, like bees.
This past September, researchers, led by Ilaria Pertot through her project PURE, in Northern Italy are researching an unorthodox method of pest control in hopes of finding an eco-friendly alternative. This chemical-free method of pest control involves utilizing sound vibrations and pheromones in order to decrease the size of pest populations.
Tuscany, one of the world’s most notable wine regions, has a huge number of vineyards across the area. The two biggest pests that grape growers have to deal with are the European grape berry moth and a type of cicada, Scaphoideus titanus. In order to decrease these pest populations, scientists interfere with the reproductive cycle with the insects. By attaching small dispensers that release pheromones near the crops and using a specific sound vibration, the communication between male and female pests necessary for mating is disrupted and no offspring is produced. This method is now being tested in a commercial setting in local farms; the end goal is to completely eliminate the use of commercial, chemical pesticides.
This chemical-free alterative to traditional pest control is not only great because it can be implemented in sustainable, organic farming, but also because it could be even more effective than traditional pest control. Bees in particular, are also very susceptible to traditional pesticides used in farming even though they aren’t the target insects. Since this method is chemical-free, it will have no effect on beneficial pollinators, like bees. The increase in bee populations due to decreased pesticide use could lead to higher crop yields. Since this past September, researchers involved in QuESSA in Pisa are currently researching the effect of natural pollinators on crop yields. By comparing the seed production and oil quality of un-pollinated, artificially pollinated, and naturally pollinated sunflowers, researchers aim to determine the bees’ effect on harvest yield. The experiment is still underway.
With the rise in popularity of urban agriculture, it is important to realize that there are many more advances to be made in sustainable farming. As farmers, or even just environmentally conscious people, we should be aware that making eco-friendly choices could have widespread effects. Everything is connected; making sustainable choices on the farm, although they may be “harder” or more work, have widespread long-term benefits.
Watch this video if you would like to learn more!