Sex and death in the cornfields: What is a refuge?

good rootworm pic

A lot of people have sent me news articles about the spread of Bt-resistant corn rootworm because they know I am interested in transgenic Bt.  These articles have alarming titles like Voracious worm evolves to eat biotech corn engineered to kill it and Evolution one-ups genetic modification. Yes,  unfotunately, corn rootworm that are resistant to transgenic Bt corn are real (Cullen 2013, EPA 2014a). But the story is more complex than you’d think from these headlines. To explain, I’d like to talk about IRM (insect resistance management), specifically, the IRM for Bt corn targeting pest caterpillars (Lepidoptera).  Please note that corn rootworms are not Lepidopterans, but Lepidopterans are

Biological Pest Control Basics

Biological pest control

Managing pests is an important part of cultivating plants whether you are tending a small garden in your yard or several fields of crops. Insect predators can make short work of healthy plants, particularly if insect predators are in abundance. The good news is that there are natural ways to combat these pests that growers have been utilizing for many years. Granted, not all solutions are created equal. There are a number of reasons why biological control efforts may fail; including breeding being out of sync or the countermeasure not being strong enough. The primary points of biological pest

Are Neonicotinoids the Sole Factor Responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder?

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A recent paper published in The Bulletin of Insectology claiming that neonicotinoids are the sole cause of CCD has been circulating in the media. The author, Chensheng Lu, has a history of doing research that makes spurious claims about the relationship between CCD and a specific group of pesticides. In this post, I am going to discuss Lu’s research, and use it as a stepping stone to discuss the role that pesticides play in honeybee health. Why are honeybees exposed to pesticides? Bees are insects which are raised as livestock, and kept around farms in order to pollinate crops.

Change your crop, change your soil

Soybean planted into wheat stubble. Image by Jason Miller, USDA-NRCS, via Flickr.

When I was a college student, almost every ag-related class I took mentioned the benefits of the “rotation effect” (better yields, fewer pests, etc.). However, aside from insect pests, how the “rotation effect” actually worked was always taught in only general terms, especially when it came to rotation effects in the soil. Recently, however, genetic methods are allowing soil scientists to begin to see what happens in the soil when a crop is grown. In their paper, Comparative metatranscriptomics reveals kingdom level changes in the rhizosphere microbiome of plants, Turner et al. describe the genetic tool they used, metatranscriptomics, and

Ecosystems are not smart, we are.

Cover crop seed blend of 17 species

In my recent post Don’t mimic nature on the farm, improve it, I argued that we should cast aside the ideas of “balance of nature” and “nature knows best” in designing farming systems. There is no reason to “follow nature’s lead” if nature has not been optimized by any process that we know of, and therefore consists of mostly random mixes of species dictated primarily by natural disturbances. But if we don’t, what are we left with? We are left with an agriculture based on human ingenuity, consisting of: Crop rotations; or better yet, dynamic crop sequences. Residue management and