Organic Farming Enhances Biodiversity & Natural Pest Control

I got so excited when I saw this news release from the USDA about one of the studies they've funded on organic agriculture, I just had to reprint it here on my blog where I could easily send people to read it.  This is EXACTLY what so many of us who work in organic agriculture have been trying to tell people.  Now here is a "scientific study" supporting that!  Cool. (the fact that I am an alumni from Washington State University and did my Master's degree on potatoes out there has nothing to do with my enthusiasm for this project :) )

Organic potatoes grown on Jake's Farm in Candler, NC

Researchers Show That Organic Farming Enhances Biodiversity and Natural Pest Control

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2010 – A team of researchers from Washington State University and the University of Georgia have found that organic farming increases biodiversity among beneficial, pest-killing predators and pathogens. In potato crops, this led to fewer insect pests and larger potato plants.

“It’s always been a mystery how organic farmers get high yields without using synthetic insecticides,” says co-author Bill Snyder, associate professor of entomology at Washington State University. “Our study suggests that biodiversity conservation may be a key to their success.”

Ecosystems with more total species, and more beneficial species that are relatively evenly distributed, are thought to be healthiest. The use of insecticides harms biodiversity by reducing the number of species and by making some species (often pests) much more common than others. The study, which was funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and published in the July 1 edition of the journal Nature, shows that organic farming practices lead to many equally-common beneficial species, and that this reduces pest problems.

In potato fields that used conventional control practices (e.g., applications of broad-acting insecticides), usually just one species of beneficial predatory insect or pest-killing pathogen was common. In contrast, in organic fields several beneficial species were about equally common. Experiments showed that groups of evenly-abundant beneficial species, typical of organic farms, were far more effective at killing potato beetle pests. Because natural enemies are usually more even in organic crops of many different kinds, not just potato, these benefits could be widespread.

NIFA funded this project through the National Research Initiative Arthropod and Nematode Biology and Management competitive grants program.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation’s future. For more information, visit

To view this research highlight online, visit

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This news release is a service of the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. To view other agency news, visit

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