The UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is running a trial on 15 farms using wildflowers instead of chemicals to beat back pests in an effort to reduce pesticide spraying. These brightly coloured flowers are planted directly within the crops, in strips that are six metres wide and spaced 100m apart. The flowers are chosen because they support the natural predators of the pests that attack cereal crops. This allows beneficial insects such as hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles, to attack aphids and other pests throughout the fields.
Other countries have also been experimenting with wild flowers as a substitute for dangerous chemicals. In Switzerland researchers planted a mix of poppies with other flowers in fields of wheat, and they found that leaf damage declined by 61%. Whilst planting flowers like this may seem like a simple process, precision is needed to encourage the right kinds of flowers in the right amounts. This necessitates the use of modern technologies like GPS mapping. Harvesting machines that are guided by GPS reap only the crops, and do not disturb the strips of wildflowers which are left to flourish all year.
Concern over environmental damage caused by pesticides has increased dramatically in recent years. The use of deadly chemicals is extremely unhealthy for farm workers, and there is strong evidence that it harms the people who consume the sprayed food. In addition, the pests gradually become resistant to the poisons, so more has to be used and stronger ones developed. Many also believe that overuse of pesticides is a contributing factor to the widespread phenomenon of beehive death. Natural alternatives are a staple of organic farming, and it seems sensible to go in this direction to keep our food supply healthy, sustainable and productive.