Working with General Mills on regenerative agriculture – measuring insect biodiversity in fields

We joined General Mills for a project in July, 2019 in North Dakota, USA to measure insect biodiversity in different crops. General Mills wants to be apart of sustainable agriculture and started multiple projects for more sustainable farms. The specific project we joined was Regenerative Agriculture. Their goal is to “advance regenerative agriculture on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030.” The project has three outcomes that they measure their results by: healthy soil, above and bellow ground diversity, and farmer economic resilience. This project can help farms be more sustainable. General Mills wrote “regenerative agriculture practices can reduce the need for expensive chemical inputs” which is an important goal to make fields more sustainable. Our companies share the goal of increasing biodiversity and decreasing pesticide usage.

A couple members of our company went to North Dakota to do research. The set up took place on one of the farms that is part of the regenerative agriculture project. Both traditional ways to count insects and our sensor was used to measure the diversity in insects in the field. The different way to measure biodiversity will be used to show how well the sensor works. After the field trial General Mills will identify the different species of insects and give a count on biodiversity. The sensor also measured the data in the field and will be analyzed to determine the biodiversity counts.

General Mills is trying to increase the biodiversity on their farms. Research scientist Jim Eckberg of General Mills Agronomy Sciences told the Tribune News, “We know that biodiversity is really important to farms. Agriculture depends on biodiversity things like pollinators and predators, decomposers all these insects are very important.” Increasing biodiversity in the field can benefit the farmers in many ways. Eckberg also told the Tribune “Biodiversity is key to providing all these ecosystem services like controlling pests in fields; decomposing crops to create healthy soils, so it’s really about what kind of world we want to live in in the future.” Monitoring the field is a key part of Integrate Pest Management (IPM). Practicing IPM can help in decreasing the amount of insecticide sprayed in the field. So, the farmer monitors the field and sees when spraying is actually needed. Understanding if there populations of predatory insects compared to the pest may allow the farmer not to spray. Since, predatory insects can keep the populations under the spraying threshold.

It will be interesting to look at the numbers of insects and compare our sensor data to classic insect collection methods. While doing the study, the team also gave an interview with the local news paper The Pierce County Tribune. Check out the story here

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