Written by Dr. Mark
You read that right, ants are as effective as chemical pesticides, and much cheaper, and in some cases produced a better crop yield. This article focuses on weaver ants (Oecophylla) which lives in tropical locations and lives in the trees. These ants weave a ball to create their nests in the tree canopy, near the fruit, allowing for protection from other pests. They’ve been shown to be very effective at protecting tropical orchards.
One 3-year study in Austrialia recorded cashew yields 49% higher in plots patrolled by ants compared to those protected by chemicals. Nut quality was higher too, so net income was 71% higher with ants than chemicals.
Similar studies in Australian mango crops found that ants could produce the same yield as chemical control, but because the ants were cheaper, and fruit quality better, net income from mangoes produced with ant protection was 73% higher.
Although these are rare cases where ants were superior to chemicals, many studies show that ants are just as efficient as chemical controls. And of course ant technology is much cheaper than chemical pest control.
The article states its a very simple process for farmers to start an ant colony for pest control. They simply need to transport a colony to their tree, provide food (sugar solution) while the colony builds itself up until it can be self sufficient. Then the farmer can connect the trees with “ant walkways” made of string. The ants may require some support during dry seasons, but that is as simple as hanging a bottle of water in the tree.
Weaver ants need a canopy for their nests, so they are limited to plantations and forestry in the tropics. But ground-living ants can be used in annual crops such as maize and sugar cane. European wood ants are renowned for controlling pests in forestry, and projects are trying to use wood ants to control winter moths in apple orchards. Ants could even be used to fight plant pathogens because they produce antibiotics to combat diseases in their dense societies.
The authors don’t mention anything about the benefits for the consumer or the environment of removing chemical pesticide from the process. But its articles like this that give me hope for our future food sources because, there’s a large population that don’t see a problem on the consumer end of eating food sprayed with chemicals but some may question the environmental impact of pesticides. The encouraging part of using ants as pesticide is the fact that they can show improved profits, because they are less expensive than the chemical option. This alone would give farmers incentive to try it, and in turn would satisfy those of us that don’t want to eat chemical sprayed foods. Lets hope this can gain some momentum and become a more popular farming method.
– Dr. Mark
The full article can be found here: http://scitech.au.dk/en/roemer/5-2015/ants-are-as-effective-as-pesticides/