Spraying corn

New scientific model considers farmers' pest management decisions

Researchers say model allows scientists to understand dynamics of farmers' pest control decisions

Researchers have developed a new model to understand the actions of humans – particularly farmers and their agronomic decisions – as they relate to the dynamics of pest populations and pest control strategies.

Related: Study will review long-term effectiveness of Bt corn

One example of farmers' response and pest populations is the European corn borer, a moth whose larval phase is a major corn pest.

Using "game theory," a term for studying logical decision making, the researchers found that the farmers' perceptions of profit and loss – alongside communication networks between individuals – affects pest populations.

A farmer's decision on whether to control a pest is usually based on the perceived threat of the pest and the guidance of commercial advisors.

Therefore, farmers in a region are often influenced by similar circumstances, which can create a coordinated response to a pest. This coordinated response, although not intentional, can affect ecological systems at the landscape scale.

"By understanding the dynamics of farmer decisions we can determine how to manage better the system, through improved communication, subsidy or taxation, to achieve robust and cost effective area-wide control, while minimizing the risk of the evolution of resistance to control strategies," said Rothamsted Research scientist and study leader Dr. Alice Milne.

Find the study abstract, "The Effect of Farmers’ Decisions on Pest Control with Bt Crops: A Billion Dollar Game of Strategy," on PLOS computational biology.

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