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K-State Research and Extension

Student uses fake caterpillars to help crop yields

What we are doing:
Ryan SchmidA Kansas State University doctoral student recently spent time in Beijing, China, to study ways in which the habitat surrounding a farm field can attract beneficial insects, ultimately leading to higher crop yields.
Ryan Schmid saw firsthand how the simple use of plasticine – a brand of modeling clay similar to Play-Doh – can help farmers improve crop yields and make more money.
Schmid, who earned a doctorate in entomology in May 2018, gathered data on beneficial insects that eliminate or reduce the presence of pests in a farmer's field. For example, lady beetles feed on crop-damaging aphids.

Our impact:

  • By rolling plasticine to look like caterpillars and placing them in a field, Schmid's research team identified bite marks a day later to learn what types of insects were in the field.
  • Though the experiment was small and relatively simple, it showed some factors that help encourage beneficial insects around farmers' fields.
  • They learned what surrounding habitat – such as flowers – might support some of the beneficial biological-control insects, and whether the habitat helps support beneficial insects.
  • Scientists have studied the habitat around farm fields for some time, so the concept is not new. But they are continually learning more about what types of habitat will encourage more of the insects that will benefit crop health and growth.

"It's all about creating a good ecosystem out there while also getting a high yield on your crops." — Ryan Schmid, K-State doctoral student, talking about research on how the habitat around a farm's field can attract beneficial insects.