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New Funding To Assess Impact Of On-farm Plantings On Beneficial Insects

Press Release – Plant and Food Research

Plant & Food Research and co-investment partners welcome the $2.2 million of Government funding for a new project ‘Beneficial Biodiversity for the Greater Good’, just announced by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

The $3.2 million, five-year research programme aims to understand the impact of native plantings on beneficial insect diversity and abundance on a range of farm types. It seeks to design plantings that optimise pollination and decrease pests on farms, without creating pest reservoirs.

“We’re grateful for the Government support through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, which will fast-track our research efforts significantly,” says Plant & Food Research lead researcher Dr Melanie Davidson.

Dr Davidson says that native plantings can host many beneficial insects that support farming in Aotearoa. These insects include pollinators and natural enemies of insect pests.

“We know from our previous research on arable and vegetable farms in Canterbury that native plantings support a complex network of insects that benefit crops. This new research programme will help us measure the services provided by these insects and understand how to optimise the benefits from native plantings across different types of farming.

“Many growers rely on honeybees to pollinate crops, but there are other insects that pollinate when honeybees aren’t active, like on cloudy days,” says Dr Davidson. “There are also insects that eat pests like aphids and caterpillars. Carefully designed native plantings can support these networks.”

The current research includes native and restoration plant sites on crop and livestock farms in Canterbury. The researchers will assess the plantings over the next five years to identify how they benefit the surrounding landscape. Iwi will contribute to the research through identifying the mauri (life force) elements related to these native plantings.

A range of partners are involved in the research project: the Foundation of Arable Research, Synlait Milk Ltd, Southern Pastures, Pāmu Landcorp, Beef + Lamb, Te Ara Kakarki Trust, Brailsfords Ltd, Selwyn District Council and Ecan, as well as retired arable farmers.

“We are joining the research project and looking forward to receiving science-backed guidance to help us select the best native plants for our Whakapuāwai programme,” says Hamish Reid, Director, Sustainability and Brand at Synlait Milk Ltd.

Dr Davidson says that knowledge sharing is an important component of the programme. “We hope that by demonstrating the tangible economic benefits, including improved profitability from reduced pesticide use and increased pollination, we will encourage people to establish native plantings on their land.

“The research will help shift the community mind-set to a biodiversity ecosystem approach.

“A key outcome of the programme will be the development of plant species composition guidelines to help farmers choose the best configurations of native plants to support their specific farming goals.”

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