Featured: Using Covers Crops as an IPM Strategy in Watermelon Production
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – Flowering winter cover crops may be used as an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy to manage pests and attract pollinators in watermelon production, based on the limited results of a one-year University of Arkansas study.
In the project, funded through a Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Graduate Student grant, horticulturist Jackie Lee and graduate student Paige Hickman analyzed cover crops in monoculture and in mixtures to determine which ones were best suited for increasing natural enemies and how well they contributed to pollinator abundance and diversity.
They found that cover crops that flowered before termination in the spring, such as mustard, crimson clover and Austrian winter pea, attracted more beneficial insects (lady beetles and parasitoids) compared to the control with no cover crops. In addition, the insects were present after cover crops were terminated, likely bridging the cover crops into the subsequent watermelon crop and, thereby, aiding in keeping pest pressures low.
Pollinator sampling revealed that native bees played more of an important role in watermelon pollination than honey bees, but the researchers found that only those cover crops that flowered before termination served as good resources for pollinators.
Based on the results, researchers offered these tips for growers:
- Growers who seek to promote pollinators should plant a flowering winter cover crop like mustard or canola that blooms before termination in the spring.
- If growers would like to keep general agricultural pests low, they should use a grass cover crop like black oats, cereal rye, or wheat.
- If melon aphids are an issue, growers should plant mustard or a legume to increase natural enemies of aphids.
- If growers are growing a legume nearby they should avoid using legume cover crops because they could increase problematic pests like pea aphids.
- If growers are going to produce cereals, then they should avoid grass cover crops that were shown to support rice stink bug.
Ultimately, growers should choose cover crops not only based on their potential impact on beneficial insects, but also based on other benefits like nutrient contribution and their impact on soil health and yield.
SARE State Coordinators are vital for expanding sustainable agriculture training for Extension, NRCS, and other agricultural professionals, who will then help producers transition to a more sustainable agriculture.
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SARE IN ARKANSAS
The Arkansas SARE program is facilitated through a joint collaboration between the University of Arkansas and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Arkansas SARE partners with researchers, extension faculty, producers, and community organizers to research and implement the best science-based practices available in all aspect’s of Arkansas’ agricultural system.
Professional Development Program
Within each state, agricultural educators work directly with farmers and ranchers to further sustainable agriculture production and marketing practices. Through a program called the Professional Development Program (PDP), SARE state ag coordinators provide support for sustainable agriculture education and outreach strategies.
SARE and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) offer the Sustainable Agriculture Fellows Program, which enhances Cooperative Extension personnel’s understanding of sustainable agriculture and provides broad-based, national exposure to successful and unique sustainable agriculture programs.