Benefits of flower strips in arable fields

Can you reduce your use of insecticides with in-field flower strips? A trial at our Strategic Cereal Farm West is testing the impact of non-crop habitats on biodiversity.

Benefits of flower strips - trial summary

  • Start: 29 September 2020
  • End: Harvest 2021

Objective

To find out whether flower strips affect the diversity, distribution and number of beneficials and pests in an arable field.

Why are flower strips beneficial to arable farms?

Integrated pest management is an important part of arable farming. Our previous research reported that non-crop habitats are important sources of biodiversity. This trial is looking at whether the results found in research trials are also seen on a commercial farm.

Flower strips attract insects that are beneficial for pollination and pest control. Field margins play an important role in enhancing insect predators and parasitoids. The trial will see if flower strips can help farmers to reduce their use of insecticides.

How is the flower strip trial run?

This field-scale trial uses three fields on the farm:

  • Field 42:
    • 32-hectare field in the farm standard.
    • Clay soil and no flower strips
  • Field 40:
    • 9-hectare field with flower strips at the edge.
    • Medium to very heavy soil
  • Field 43
    • 5-hectare field with flower strips within the field and at the field edge 
    • Medium soil

For harvest 2021, the fields are in RGT Saki winter wheat. Strategic Cereal Farm host, Rob Fox, drilled the trial on 29 September 2020 at a rate of 192 kg/ha.

The seed mix contains:

  • Achillea millefolium Yarrow
  • Anthriscus sylvestris Cow parsley
  • Centaurea nigra Common knapweed
  • Chaerophyllum temulum Rough chervil
  • Daucus carota Wild carrot
  • Echium vulgare Viper's bugloss
  • Geranium pratense Meadow cranesbil
  • Knautia arvensis Field scabious
  • Lathyrus pratensis Meadow vetchling
  • Leontodon hispidus Rough hawkbit
  • Leucanthemum vulgare Oxeye daisy
  • Lotus corniculatus Birdsfoot trefoil
  • Pastinaca sativa Wild parsnip
  • Prunella vulgaris Selfheal
  • Pulicaria dysenterica Common fleabane
  • Silene dioica Red campion
  • Stachys sylvatica Hedge woundwort

Results from flower strip trial so far

Solitary bee nests

In March 2021, ADAS placed two solitary bee trap nests in each of the fields. At the end of the summer, the researchers will collect the traps for analysis.

Soil surface pests and natural enemies spring assessment

At GS30, the field team set pitfall traps and collected them between 3 and 5 days later. They also used refuge traps for monitoring slugs. The researchers used three transects in each field and extra transects in the flower strips within the crop in Field 43. On each transect, they laid three pitfall and refuge traps.

Ground beetles

Ground beetles larvae feed on soil-borne pests. The research team found 13 of them in Field 43 where the flower strips are within the crop and the edge of the field.

In Field 40, where the flower strips are at the edge of the field, the team found fewer ground beetle larvae, 8 in total.

In Field 40, where there are no flower strips, they found 2 larvae. This could be because the flower strips provide improved habitat and resource availability. There is also reduced disturbance in the flower strips compared to the rest of the field.

Assessing the benefits of flower strips

Soil surface pests and natural enemies summer assessment

At GS60, the field team will repeat the pitfall and refuge trap transects.

Flower strip species and encroachment

In June/ July 2021, the researchers will assess the strip at 10-metre intervals. They will record the sown plants and weeds that are present. 5 metres into the crop, they will determine whether the sown plants have moved into the arable crop.

Crop canopy pests and natural enemies summer assessments

In June/July 2021, ADAS will use clear water traps to measure the crop canopy pests and natural enemies. These traps will be set out along three transects in each field. On each transect, the team will use two traps. There will be extra transects in the middle of the flower strips that are within the crop in Field 43. All the traps will be set out in the field and collected 2 weeks later.

Aphids bait cards and counts

Towards the end of June, ADAS will place aphid bait cards with five live aphids attached next to the water traps. These bait cards are a useful way of assessing the level of predators in the field.

At GS60, the team will count the number of aphids, parasitoid mummies and predators on the wheat tillers on two 100 metre transects. The team will do these counts on 20 tillers at 5 sampling locations along the transect.

Yield

At harvest, the farm will collect combine yield data for ADAS to analyse.

Cost of production

The Farm Economics team will calculate the economic cost of production of the winter wheat in each trial field. Using Farmbench, they will produce costs per hectare and per tonne. The calculations will use:

  • Seed, fertiliser and crop protection
  • Farm labour, machinery and equipment
  • The regional average for property, energy and administration

Our Strategic Farms are an opportunity to see how to use our research on a commercial farm. Find out more about our Strategic Cereal Farm West Programme

Useful resources

Using flower mixes to support conservation efforts and improve crop management

AHDB Encyclopaedia of pests and natural enemies

Image of staff member Richard Meredith

Richard Meredith

Interim Head of Arable Knowledge Exchange
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