To improve this situation, ECOORCHARD combined several complementary and goal oriented approaches: i) identifying and compiling still “unknown” methods already implemented by fruit growers to increase FAB in EU countries; (ii) elaborating suitable methods for collaborative application to monitor FAB on-farm and in scientific trials; (iii) conducting collaborative scientific trials with focus on the quantification of the effect of a new approach to install FAB-boosting flower strips in the inter rows and (iv) learning from each other and dissemination.
Knowledge and experience on FAB management from practitioners were collected by interviews of farmers and advisors and led to a description of 24 different FAB techniques, old and new, falling under different strategies including long-term ecological infrastructures, dynamic practices and to a lesser extent redesign techniques. Country differences were significant, but ecological infrastructures were the most implemented. On average farmers combined more than 4 techniques since 13 years, and emphasized a global approach to FAB expecting multiple Ecosystem Services beyond pest regulation (economic, environmental, agronomic and working conditions), reflecting also a need for more information about FAB. The European Biodiversity Orchard-Network at http://ebionetwork.julius-kuehn.de/ now includes 200 priority papers, reports and presentations on FAB, supplemented by material provided and developed by partners, and will be continued. A review of existing FAB research on creating floral resources for beneficials in apple orchards showed relatively few studies, of which cover crops and flower strips were most studied, while agroforestry methods were at the outset and only few studies before EcoOrchard included fruit damage and yield.
Methods for farmers and advisors own assessment of FAB services in orchards were selected based on performance criteria (time, materials and skill needed, information provided), and demonstrated in workshops/ on farm and a by a practical handbook on FAB assessment (available in 6 languages via EBIO-Network. In 2016 and 2017, 40 and 50 farmers tested at least one method each. The handbook was improved by experiences collected, and proved a valuable tool in communicating FAB to growers and advisors. Workshops, instructions and on farm demonstrations of methods, were appreciated and we experienced much interest to learn more about the biology and life cycle of the beneficials, important to make optimal use of them.
Two different flower mixtures fulfilling FAB criteria of mainly wild types were tested in seven countries. A complex mixture of 30 perennial herb species and 8 grass species and a simple mixture with ca half the number of species. Two types of field trials were set up considering botanical or entomological/botanical aspects of these two flower strips, testing both mixtures on the level of botanical aspects. We used shared field protocols and guidelines enabling analysis in a pan-European context, providing more valuable data than could be provided by single partners, and analysed the impact on natural pest control in relation to botanical resources (with and without flower strips). Flower strips significantly increased plant diversity in orchards, and increased the presence of natural enemies in the apple trees. This led to a higher control of key apple pests and a reduction in fruit damage. Although pest suppression and damage reduction may not be enough to use this conservation biological control strategy as a stand-alone practise, flower strips can contribute to a build-up of the resilience of the apple agroecosystem against pests, reducing the need for insecticide use and favouring conservation biocontrol. We succeeded to adapt monitoring methods and practices for FAB orchard management to end-users needs and constraints, with the active participation of stakeholders and to disseminate project results within a strong, collaborative stakeholder network created in the project. Workshops in France, Sweden and Denmark were used for exchange of FAB perception and practices and disseminated results, while demonstrations or field visits were organised to widen the dissemination in partner countries. Results and materials of the EcoOrchard project such as multilingual versions of the handbook in FAB assessment and FAB management are in the EBIO-Network, organic e-prints or the project homepage. Further five scientific manuscripts are in process.
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