Beneficial insects for farmers

Research is happening in North Platte where "good" bugs can manage pests in farm fields.

We visited the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, and talked with assistant professor and extension specialist Julie Peterson. "We work to use the information we find to help farmers manage insects in their fields," Peterson said. "A lot of what we do is to look for those beneficial insects."

There are several different good bugs that the researchers like. "Lady beetles are one group. They attack things like aphids, and they also can feed on other eggs and caterpillars. Another good bug we are working with are some tiny wasps."

One of the pests the researchers are very much focused on is the western bean cutworm. It's a caterpillar and it eats ears of corn and dry edible beans. "The moth comes out of the soil in late June to early July. They fly around and lay eggs on corn plants and dry edible bean plants. Those eggs will hatch, and the caterpillars will feed on ears of corn and developing beans. That's where they do their damage," Peterson said.

"We can encourage farmers to plant wildflowers next to their corn fields. That provides pollen and nectar to lady beetles, it helps the lady beetles build up their populations, and so there are more of them to eat the bad bugs," Peterson said. She says this isn't an effort to completely eliminate the use of insecticides. Rather, the research is geared toward finding ways that this "biological control" can work in tandem with conventional practices to reduce insecticide use in some cases, but not eliminate it. For more information, check out cropwatch.unl.edu.