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Whole Farm-Level Evaluation of Field Border Vegetation Effects on Organic Management of Insect Pests and Weed Seed Banks, and On Farmland WILDL


The project goal is to develop and deliver to farmers a practical plan to improve insect and weed pest management as well as farmland wildlife populations in organic agricultural systems through strategic use of planted field border habitat. This proposal seeks to build on the results of a current USDA-NRCS-CIG funded project assessing planting and management strategies for native prairie plant habitats as an alternative to the traditional fallow CP33 (NRCS Upland Bird Habitat Buffer Conservation Reserve Program 33) habitats for quail population restoration that are currently being deployed. <P>Under provisions of CP33, growers are paid to leave strips of volunteer vegetation around field borders as habitat for quail and early-successional songbirds that benefit from this practice. However, traditional fallow borders do not enhance populations or activity of beneficial insects in adjacent crop fields. Native prairie plants have been shown in small scale studies to enhance beneficial insects, in addition to providing habitat for wildlife. As a result of the above NRCS-funded study, NRCS jobsheets are currently being revised to allow planting of these native plants into CP33 buffers. <P>For organic growers, the modified CP33 program could provide financing to allow for establishment of beneficial borders to improve insect and weed pest management on their fields, while at the same time enhancing farmland wildlife. However, many organic farmers have concerns over these vegetated borders serving as refuges for weeds and other pest organisms.<P> This project will determine whether positive pest impacts of these borders outweigh those concerns and single out which type of border is most beneficial. The project will also explore how deeply these border effects are able to penetrate production areas. <P>Project results will be used to educate farmers on impacts of non-cultivated areas on their crops and how management must extend beyond the field edge for organic to reach its maximum potential. <P>Objectives. Objective 1: Compare population dynamics of key beneficial and pest insect species and weed seed predators in habitat borders and adjacent crops. <P>Objective 2: Estimate effect of parasitism and predation on crop insect pest species in fields bordered by various habitats. <P>Objective 3: Determine how much of annual weed seed rain on adjoining fields is consumed by weed seed predators and discern whether habitat type affects this predation. <P>Objective 4: Define how beneficial habitats affect spatial distribution of weed seed banks. <P>Objective 5: Determine quality and quantity of arthropod and seed foods available to quail in various habitat borders. Quail are indicator species for early successional birds, and results from objectives 5 and 6 can be extrapolated to songbird species. <P>Objective 6: Determine structural quality of various habitat borders as nesting and foraging habitat for quail. <P>Objective 7: Assess arthropod types consumed by songbirds utilizing habitat borders. <P>Objective 8: Extension and education program to deliver project results to organic growers. Evaluate project impact using independent evaluator.

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Non-Technical Summary: The purpose of this project is to evaluate a range of field border habitat types for their value to insect and weed pest management within crop fields, as well as their value to on-farm wildlife. The objectives of this proposal help to fill gaps in our knowledge about how best to implement field border habitats to enhance beneficial insects, wildlife, and management of pest insects and weeds by making use of on-farm populations of beneficial organisms (both insects and birds). We will examine the effect of different types of border habitat plantings on the beneficial insect communities they harbor, and the effect of these communities on insect as well as weed management in adjacent crops. We will assess the value of the border habitats as cover and a food resource for quail. In addition, we will examine the arthropod diets of songbirds that move between the borders and crop fields to assess the value of these habitats, and the potential contribution of early successional songbirds to insect management in adjacent crops. An advisory group of organic growers, extension personnel, and a crop consultant has been assembled in order to direct this project from the beginning towards a practical product that growers will use on their farms. Although we are using an organic farming production system for this project, the outcomes should be applicable to a wider array of cropping, because we are targeting field border vegetation outside of crop fields. <P> Approach: Efforts. This study will take place on a 100 acre area of the Organic Research Unit of The Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS; ). The study area is transitioning to organic agriculture. Activities will take place in 16 crop fields, of approx 4-10 acres. Each field will be in either soybeans, corn, hay year 1, or hay year 2 in equal proportions for each year of the project. Each field will be partly surrounded by 1200 ft of experimental habitat, made up of four randomly assigned 300 ft sections of four habitat types. Habitat types were selected based on preliminary data and literature presented in the Introduction section that represent a range of values to beneficial insects and wildlife. The habitats are: 1) Control 1, mowed grass/weeds 2) Control2, fallow habitat to represent traditional CP33 habitat; 3) flowering herbaceous species only; 4) herbaceous species plus warm season grasses promoted for wildlife habitat in the southeast. Fallow areas in habitat 2 will remain undisturbed for the three year project. Habitats 3 and 4 will be kept mowed to maintain vegetation between 6 and 15 inches for the first year of the project, in order to promote good stand development (determined from preliminary data and literature). One 100 ft. transect line will be established perpendicular to field edges in the middle of each habitat plot, with sampling points in habitat and varying distances from the field edges to suit each activity in the proposal. Evaluation. OSullivan & Associates will address evaluation concerns for this project. They will focus on outcomes and impacts of the project in terms of dissemination. They will work with the PIs to develop an evaluation plan and identify data sources to monitor and report impacts from this project. They will meet with the project team and advisory group to develop an evaluation plan based on a program logic model. This will specify impacts expected from activities to achieve the project objectives. This plan will identify data collection methods in a collaborative evaluation model since the budget does not allow extensive travel or time for actual evaluation data collection. (Month 1 of project). Data collection tools (surveys, forms, and other data collection instruments) and steps (such as focus groups or email, conference call surveys will be selected and designed for the project team. They will be shared with the project team for review and implementation. (Month 3). Data collection will be monitored. Data will be assembled and analyzed. An evaluation report will be submitted to project leader for use in annual report (Months 9-12). Project process and evaluation steps will be reviewed and adjusted in collaboration with project team (Month 13). The cycle will repeat itself in subsequent years with modifications based on flow of the project. A goal of the evaluation process will be to build collaboration and understanding among project participants and stakeholders. (Subsequent months to end of project).

Orr, David
North Carolina State University
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