UK - Agri-environmental schemes on farm are generally seen to be taking up production space but the big question facing farmers tempted to employ them is “Do they Work?”
This was the question posed by James Bullock from the NEERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to the Oxford Farming Conference last week.
Dr Bullock said that the proof is in research studies that show that agri-environmental scheme do work by helping to slow down the declines in biodiversity which in turn helps to benefit production.
He said that the use of biodiverse strips on the edge of fields has been shown to benefit wild bees and wild bees such as bumble bees coming from wild flower margins are beneficial in pollinating crops.
However, Dr Bullock added that the in the area of pest control, agri-environment schemes are possibly more important that for pollination, as the environmental areas near to fields are also breeding grounds for insects that are natural pest controllers.
And he added that even where spraying is being carrie4d out, the natural enemies will have an effect on the pests.
Dr Bullock said that studies in the US, where wild flower borders were grown near fields producing blueberries and mangoes had shown that the cost of establishing the wild flow border was more than offset by the increase in yields.
Further studies that included 10 years of monitoring showed that after six years with the establishment of agri-environmental schemes around a farm had produced increased yields with bean crops being the most responsive.
Dr Bullock said that there is an important role for farmers to play in agri-environmental schemes as these schemes might not only enhance biodiversity but and enhance yield.
He said that farmers with longer and more intense experience of these agri-environmental schemes tend to produce better quality margins and hence have more birds and butterflies and bees around their fields.
However, he added that to ensure that the most is made from the environmental areas around the fields there needs to be a combination of the farmers, industry and the scientists working together.