COMPANION planting of flowers near vegetable crops is nothing new but a researcher is aiming to more fully document the benefits on a commercial level.
The research aims to help vegetable growers adopt integrated pest management (IPM) methods that are simple, cost-effective, fit with mainstream farming, and reduce costs.
Charles Sturt post doctoral researcher, Dr Syed Rizvi from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, said field trials have been conducted on vegetable farms in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.
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"Flowering plants like sweet alyssum, buckwheat, and cornflowers were grown amongst the Brassica vegetable crops," Dr Rizvi said.
"These flowers are easy to grow, low maintenance, perform quickly, and last up to a full cropping season. They also support beneficial bugs and insects by providing shelter, nectar, alternative prey and pollen.
"Early trial results show a strong association between the flowering plants, high numbers of beneficial insects and low numbers of pests.
"We measured a significant drop in pest numbers up to 15 metres from the flowers."
Hort Innovation research and development manager, Ms Ashley Zamek, said the project investigated how growers can support beneficial bug and insect populations in crops through approaches that complement traditional farming.
"The research has found that there is a potential to increase beneficial bugs such as ladybeetles and predatory mites, which feed on many pests, and can help counter damaging pest populations," Ms Zamek said.
"The project aims to leverage this by providing viable options for Australian growers to plant complimentary crops and vegetation to support beneficial bugs while not affecting crop productivity.
"Beneficial bugs play a large role in IPM and are one part of the sustainability puzzle."
Research lead, Charles Sturt Professor Geoff Gurr, said the ecological approach to pest management may provide another tool for growers to help reduce the need for synthetic chemicals such as pesticides and insecticides.
"A field survey of over 400 vegetable fields around Australia found no observable difference in pest populations between conventionally managed crops where synthetic chemical are used and organic crops," Professor Gurr said.
"But there was a big difference in the number of beneficial bugs, which were significantly lower in conventional growing systems.
"This tells us that beneficial insects may be able to support the management of pest outbreaks in the absence of synthetic chemical use."
The research findings will be used to develop an information package to help growers implement ecologically based pest management strategies.