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Phil Lempert at the 2015 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards with the Vold family

Working with wasps

A dairy family uses competitive nature to control pests

Ecosystems are complex systems maintained through checks and balances refined over hundreds of years. Using solutions designed by nature can have a big impact—just ask the Vold family of Dorrich Dairy in west central Minnesota. By working with nature, the family has been able to reduce their synthetic pesticide use by up to 85 percent. 

This past May, the fourth-generation family farm was awarded a 2015 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award in the Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability category for their holistic integrated pest management system. The award, created by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy®, recognizes dairy farms, businesses and collaborative partnerships for practices that deliver outstanding economic, environmental and/or social benefit, all helping to advance sustainability of the dairy industry. This is the second consecutive year a Land O'Lakes member farm has been recognized with an award for its outstanding sustainability practices.

Richard and Dorothy Vold (Dor-Rich), along with their sons Brad and Greg and Brad’s wife Suzanne, use stingless wasps to reduce the farm’s fly population. Not only are flies are annoying, they can also stress cows and spread diseases. Here’s how it works. The Volds place wasp larvae in fly nesting areas throughout the farm. The wasps hatch and lay their eggs in the fly larvae, which are eaten when the wasps hatch. The new adult wasps—which are no bigger than a gnat—then repeat the cycle. Not only is this more cost-effective than chemical controls, but it’s also good for the environment.

“We all want to be able to pass on our farm to the next generation. We’re constantly working to find the most effective methods of protecting our natural resources,” says Brad. “We owe it to the next generation to find ways to make this all work as efficiently and as effectively as we can.”

Reducing synthetic chemical use reduces the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production, as well as improve the overall biodiversity in the area. Also, flies, like many insects, naturally develop resistance to pesticides over time. A similar occurrence is observed in clownfish and their immunity to anemone. By working with nature’s natural predator-prey cycle, they reduce this natural resistance— becoming a sustainability solution that increases in effectiveness over time.

In the field, the Volds plant their corn silage in 15-inch rows instead of the traditional 30-inch rows. As the plants grow, they cover the space between the rows faster, making it difficult for weeds to get enough nutrients to grow in the first place. During the growing season, they also scout fields regularly to identify the type, life cycle and population of pests. This helps the Volds target the precious amount of pesticides they do use. These approaches combined have eliminated chemical use by up to 50 percent.

By working with nature, their integrated pest management system maximizes yield, decreases costs and is better for the environment.

“We’re constantly collecting data to adjust and readjust,” says Greg. “Combining the latest technology with our family’s 116 years of farming experience really allows us to find and put into action the best solutions.”

For us, taking care of the land is nothing new. Land O'Lakes, Inc. has focused on sustainability with members for several years. 

“Many of our members, like the Volds, implement innovative sustainability practices into their operation,” says Tai Ullmann, sustainability specialist. “Quantifying and sharing these impacts not only demonstrates our values and commitments but hopefully also encourage others to adopt similar approaches.”