Ever wonder just how your local organic farmer does it?  If they don’t use pesticides, why are the crops not just devoured by bugs?  How is it possible to buy organic food that is attractive, abundant, tasty- AND pesticide free?

A new article published yesterday in top science magazine Nature gives some insight into why and how organic pest control works.  According to the study by Washington State University researchers, it’s all about the bugs.

Potato beetles can cause damage to crops (photo from Nature magazine)

On conventional farms, pesticides are used to kill insects that damage crops, but they end up killing beneficial insects (predators that eat the harmful insects) as well.  The study showed that insect communities on conventional farms had too few predators to control harmful insects.  Organic farms, on the other hand, had more balanced insect communities, and the predators were better able to keep bad bugs in check.

In the study, which focused on potato plants, the organic farming methods actually provided better pest control, with 18% fewer pests than the conventional fields, and the organic plants grew 35% bigger than their conventional counterparts.

Wait- the organic plants had fewer pests and were bigger?!  This goes counter to much of the debate around organics, in which it is often argued that “organics can’t feed the world” or that chemical “crop protection technologies” are necessary to growing a robust and productive crop.  Looks like those crazy hippies might be on to something.

So the next time you’re picking up some organic produce at the farmers market, give thanks to bugs- the predator insects that help your pesticide-free food grow!