Can Ladybugs Control Your Cabbage Pests?

The cabbage industry in New York State is worth about $60 million annually, a statistic that is threatened by the cabbage looper: a pest capable of creating massive yield loss.

Farmers are looking for sustainable alternatives to chemical insecticides, which have the potential to build up resistance, impact non-target organisms, and incur a heavy bill for the grower. One of these alternatives is the controlled release of biological control agents such as ladybugs, which prey on cabbage loopers amongst other pests. A team of researchers led experiments on eleven cabbage farms in New York state to study if this method of biological control is effective enough to replace or decrease the use of insecticides when growing cabbage in the Northeast.

“The landscape context can inform how to better use this strategy in field conditions,” said Ricardo Perez-Alvarez, the paper’s first author and a Cornell University graduate student, told CALS News. Brian Nault, an entomology professor at Cornell AgriTech, is also a co-author.

A paper was published based on this research titled “Effectiveness of Augmentative Biological Control Depends on Landscape Context” in Nature on June 17. In short, the researchers reached the conclusion that the efficacy of releasing ladybugs to control cabbage pests depends on what landscape surrounds your farm.

In the study, on farms bordering forest or other natural landscapes, releasing ladybugs helped control cabbage pests, leading to less damage and higher yields. On farms in the midst of other cultivated agricultural areas, the opposite was true, and the release of ladybugs led to higher yield losses. Predator-pest relations in agricultural settings are complicated and vary case-to-case, and further research is necessary on this topic before general recommendations can be made to growers. But, this research gives an exciting insight into the potential of biological control for cabbage pests in New York state.

Read more about the research and findings on the CALS website.

Nina Sannes

Nina worked as a student intern for the Small Farms Program in 2019. She is a 5th year undergraduate student pursuing an independent major in agroecology in an effort to gain a nuanced view of the social and scientific sides of agriculture. She hopes to work to aid small farmers in adopting agroecological growing practices.
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