A research study involving harvester ants was recently conducted in Spain and was highlighted by Penn State. The full results of the study will be released later this month but if the known findings are any indication, it could be a huge moment for organic farmers.
The study was designed to determine what differences were occurring in harvester ant populations between tilled and no-tilled fields. Although the findings are not necessarily new concepts, they are confirmation of what most environmental scientists and farmers have already suspected.
In the no-tilled fields, the ant nests were more evenly distributed and larger in size. This combination has allowed the harvester ants to feed their colonies while greatly reducing weed pressure in the fields. Every time a field is tilled, it pushes weed seeds deeper into the soil and makes it harder for the ants to retrieve them. Tilling also reshapes or destroys colonies, leaving smaller populations numbers in concentrated areas. With fewer ants to remove the weed seeds, the more weeds there will be to remove from a given field.
While it’s ideal to adopt a complete no-till method to farming, it’s sometimes unavoidable. With that in mind, it has been suggested by this study to till one time a year; in the fall. This time period allows the ants to harvest weed seeds and establish generously sized colonies.
Although flying insects help to achieve plant pollination, they shouldn’t be of exclusive focus. The insects in and on the ground also play an important role in the health of our food and ecosystems.