7.1.16 / ADMIN
No Pests Bugging Me This Summer!
By Kate Lambert
Kate and her husband raise cattle, corn, sheep and soybeans on their farm in Laclede, Missouri.
Summer is finally here. It’s a season associated with sunshine, picnics and barbecues, and cold lemonade on a hot day. There’s a lot to love about summer. But there is also one pesky thing that comes with it – summertime flies and bugs. Yuck!
As a mom, you shoo houseflies away and likely worry about the diseases that mosquitoes, ticks and flies can bring with them.
As a mom and livestock farmer, I can relate. I’d certainly rather prevent disease in the first place than treat it later, for both my children and my cows. When it comes to livestock, flies can spread diseases, such as pink eye, from one animal to the other. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, like the saying goes, so I take some pretty basic measures to prevent flies and pests from bothering my cows. For starters, I keep the barns and pastures as clean as possible, with fresh bedding, clean water and good airflow at all times.
My cows are also outfitted with ear tags that work very much like the standard flea and tick collars your dog or cat might wear. The tag releases a very low dose of chemicals to repel disease-carrying flies, ticks and other pests, keeping the cows more comfortable. Cows use their tails to swat flies. Ear tags protect their faces, since their tails can’t reach. After all, no one wants bugs in their eyes.
Protecting my herd from pests not only keeps the cows comfortable, it also makes financial sense. If I allowed pests to spread a disease to my cows, I’d have to pay for treatment.
From Cows to Corn
Corn on the cob is a staple of many summertime picnics. Unfortunately, we’re not the only ones who enjoy fresh corn in the summer. The corn I grow is mainly for animal feed, meaning it’s consumed by livestock, not humans. We would find this corn much more bitter than the sweet corn we like to butter and eat on the cob, but livestock and, unfortunately, pests, love it. Specific pests vary by year, but where I farm in Missouri, European corn borer – one pesky member of the caterpillar family – is one of my biggest concerns.
As its name implies, this pest bores into an ear of corn. They may be small, but they can eat a lot of corn and cause a lot of damage, which decreases my yield – and my profits. As a farmer, I also have to consider my resources. If I plant a field of corn that gets destroyed by pests, not only do I lose money from lost yield, but I’ve also used my soil and water, with nothing to show for it.
One of the biggest advancements in crop protection we’ve seen is what’s known as Bt corn. Bt corn has been genetically modified to withstand corn borers – it contains small amounts of a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, which is fatal to the corn borer when eaten. Before Bt corn, I had to frequently spray my crops with insecticides to protect them from insects like corn borer. Now, I rarely need to spray. In addition, Bt corn is very specific – it has a protein receptor for these harmful caterpillars but does not harm bees, ladybugs or the other “good” bugs that are beneficial to the health of my soil, grass and waterways.
Bt corn is genetically modified, or GMO. GMO technology refers to the breeding methods behind the organism – in this case, corn. We’ve been breeding plants for desired traits since the early days of agriculture. GMOs deliver the traits we need more quickly, giving us one more tool in our toolbox to grow healthy, plentiful crops. And, no studies have ever proven any adverse effects of GMOs on humans or livestock.
As moms, we all strive to keep bugs away from our children. As a farmer, I also work to keep them away from my cow herd and my crops.
Happy summer, and may all your picnics and outdoor activities be pest-free!