FARMERS USE DUCKS INSTEAD OF PESTICIDES
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By Michelle Moore
In recent years there has been a movement within farming communities to move towards more traditional farming methods in an effort to reduce the use of pesticides that have become synonymous with many modern, large-scale farming operations.
In Canada, the Nelson River Watershed in Manitoba represents roughly 70% of the country's agricultural land where the use of pesticides is widespread.
According to Environment Canada, when surveyed between 2006 and 2011, 20 of the 47 pesticides used in the area were found to be present in the Red River, with similar results for the Assiniboine and Carrot River.
Elsewhere around the world, an ancient technique for growing rice known as Aigamo-rice cultivation has seen a return in popularity in several countries including France, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Essentially, this technique pairs rice cultivation with raising ducks, who effectively control both weeds and insect population in this completely organic farming method.
Rather than using pesticides, every morning teams of ducks are released onto the fields. The ducks dutifully eat the insects as well as the weeds, often pulling them up at the root, but ignore the rice plants.
All the while, their steps aerate the soil, preventing the accumulation of harmful gases in the rhizosphere and their droppings fertilize the fields with almost all the essential nutrients.
A joint study by Ehime University in Japan and the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute revealed that this method actually reduced weed growth by 92 to 96%.
According to the study, it "enables the poor farmers to obtain not only rice, as the main crop, but also subsidiary products (duck meat and eggs), from the same piece of land at the same time."
Between 2003 and 2004 the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute had farmers in 48 different villages divide their plots in order to compare the rice-duck system to cultivating rice by itself.
Over that time, insect populations including the green leafhopper, brown plant hopper, zigzag leaf hopper, and rice bug were significantly lower.
Total weed biomass in rice-duck fields was reduced by 52-58%. Ducks not only ate the weeds, they also trampled them and ate the weed seeds which prevents them from returning.
Overall, at a rate of 350 to 400 birds per hectare, data showed that the yields of the rice-duck system plots were 20% higher than the plots without ducks.
The study concluded that "soil analysis showed that the N, P, K, Ca, and S levels in the soils of the rice-duck plots were higher after cultivation than before cultivation."
This technique has recently been adopted by a South African vineyard in Stellenbosch, where the owner of Vergenoegd Vineyard uses a team of 1000 Indian Runner Ducks to eat the tiny white dune snails on the budding grape vines. It has been so successful in reducing pesticides, the vineyard has since been certified organic.
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