Working With Nature on Joseph Decuis Farm
With her nose to the air, ears flapping in the wind, and tail thumping the back seat, Ginger is very much enjoying her evening car ride. Much to her chagrin, I crank the window shut. She lets out an audible sigh before curling up to cope with her boredom. The truth is, I closed the window for her own good. It doesn’t take a dog’s nose to detect the distinct smell of pesticides creeping into the car. Sure enough, we crest the hill and I see a cloud of poison tailing a tractor in the distance.
On my drive to work I pass countless acres of corn and soybean fields. This time of year it's tempting to think the green fields are teeming with life, but in reality they more closely resemble sterilized operating rooms then the complex ecosystems that once thrived across the country. Today, farmers spray insecticides and herbicides until only a single cash crop remains. In their wake they leave desolate fields, void of almost all life.
From Soybeans to IPM
When Pete and Alice purchased what would become Joseph Decuis Wagyu Farm in 1988, the land was nothing more than an abused soybean field similar to the ones I pass on my way to work. Today my co-worker, Abbey, and I are able to challenge our entomology knowledge by photographing obscure insects and trying to identify them. We often spend our lunch hour Googling the benefits of various beetles and parasitic wasps.
Abbey and I enjoy such diversity because of our use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Conventional spraying methods are shortsighted, addressing only a symptom (pests) while ignoring the core issue (a lack of biodiversity). In stark contrast to this, IPM takes a long-term approach that seeks to address the systemic problem by promoting biodiversity.
There is no silver bullet in farming–we use several strategies to attract beneficial insects and suppress pest populations. For example, bird houses placed around the farm attract birds such as wrens that feed on insects. Insectaries blooming with various flowers are strategically planted among our vegetables to attract pollinators as well as to provide food and habitat for a wide range of beneficial insects.
Additionally, our crop rotation and timed plantings are designed to mitigate pest damage and to break pest reproduction cycles. In time, these strategies lead to a healthy population of “good bugs” both common and uncommon (pictures below). My drive to work serves as a reminder of how much Joseph Decuis Wagyu Farm has transformed in the past 28 years.
The Great Golden Wasp hunts crickets and grasshoppers. They sting their prey to paralyze it before feeding it to their young.
Crimson Clover is planted in our insectaries to provide food and habitat for beneficials. It attracts dozens of bees, including this honey bee.
Robber Flies, also called Assassin Flies, are powerful predators capable of catching prey in mid-flight. These predators feed on a wide variety of insects and help maintain a healthy ecosystem on the farm.