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WUR: Strip cropping attracts pest combating insects

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) conducts tests with a variety of crops in narrow strips. Results show that so-called strip cropping attracts more insects that combat pest insects and slows the spread of diseases. There’s no loss in yield compared to a monoculture system.

Dirk van Apeldoorn, Crop Diversity researcher at WUR, has been studying strip cropping since 2014. Strip cropping is a form of cultivation where different crops are grown in adjacent strips. The university collaborates with over twenty Dutch farmers to conduct experiments with strip cropping.

Crop stripping using GPS

The strips are planned using a GPS system with which tractors are equipped. For example, a strip of grass, a strip of cabbage, a strip of a different crop, and so forth. “The GPS logs the exact location of each crop. This information is then used in the tending of the crops, and is also useful for administrative purposes,” Van Apeldoorn said.

According to the WUR research, strip cropping does not require additional labour input, and the contractors hired by the farmers charge the same fee for a strip cultivated field as for a field containing just one crop, the researcher states.

Spread of diseases curbed

The advantage of strip cropping is that strips of up to 6 metres in width curb the spread of diseases, such as the potato disease phytophthora. “You could compare this to the social distancing measure during the corona outbreak”, Van Apeldoorn clarifies.

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The advantage of strip cropping is that strips of up to 6 metres in width curb the spread of diseases, such as the potato disease phytophthora. - Photo: Hans Banus
The advantage of strip cropping is that strips of up to 6 metres in width curb the spread of diseases, such as the potato disease phytophthora. - Photo: Hans Banus

Furthermore, insect pests occur less frequently. “The strips attract more crawling insects and spiders, as well as flying insects such as parasitoid wasps and hoverflies. This combination is effective in fighting pest insects such as aphids and caterpillars.”

Strip cropping a transition technology

Van Apeldoorn considers strip cropping a transition technology. “The entire system, from the seed supplier to the buyer in the supermarket, is focussed on farmers cultivating just one crop. All machines, methods and seeds are made for monocultures. Breeders develop varieties that do well when surrounded by similar plants. Varieties used in strip-cropping should be more competitive,” he said.

His aim is the future use of so-called ”pixel cropping”, where crops are surrounded by other plants that are mutually beneficial, and where only ripe crops are harvested, leaving the rest to ripen.

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