Stewardship is Fundamental

for Natural Midge and Mosquito Management

Beyond simple regenerative farming, stewardship is fundamental. It must include water. When it doesn’t, nature steps in and provides niche biota that fill every biotic opportunity with some form of life.

naturally grow fish like this school of minnows under a floating island
Fathead minnows flourish within the stream channel of a BioHaven StreamBed, with plenty of periphyton to sustain them.

In June here in Montana, conventional farming is tightly focused around silage corn and sugarbeets. In this shortgrass prairie setting, irrigation is fundamental. Fly east out of Billings at night and trace agriculture by the lines of lights that depict where water occurs. You see a tree of lights branching out from the Yellowstone, or the Missouri to the North. Montana is limited by water. Eleven inches of moisture per year is the average in this setting. The same parallel in the midwest averages four times this number. So the water is managed tightly for production, but then it can quickly become a liability. If it sits around in puddles for more than five days, it and the associated nutrients, the orthophosphate and nitrogen associated with it, cycles into mosquitoes and midges. Think West Nile and Blue Tongue disease.

Water stewardship is fundamental

Regenerative agriculture is in for a shock. Practitioners are likely to be dismayed by the evolving knowledge that soil science is just a small segment of the loop that must be understood. Nutrients and ubiquitous carbon must be followed around the loop. Limiting variables must be tracked and stewarded. Without this, the system invariably short circuits, and nature is always poised to fill in the gaps.

Quick example: A pond encircled by Russian Olive trees and a spattering of willow. The pond receives variable surges of spent irrigation water. It’s shallow, not deep enough to sustain game fish. But it holds water, nutrient and carbon enriched water. Wood ducks and teal nest there, and their guano, and that of countless other biota, contributes to the nutrient cycling challenge. Amphibians happen too. But without some intervention, serious and effective predators of mosquito and midge larvae are primarily absent.

The native fathead minnow, or the five prong stickleback cyprinid, a prehistoric looking minnow-like fish, both occur and mostly, sustain in such settings. A fathead minnow can average consumption of 65 mosquito larvae, per fish, per day. The cullicoides midge is in the same trophic level as the mosquito, and the fathead is certain to consume its larvae too, even though this is not measured data yet, that I know of.

A fathead minnow can average consumption of 65 mosquito larvae, per fish, per day.

Just here at Floating Island International headquarters, on our 340 acre research farm, there’s fourteen waterways, like the example above, that grow mosquito and midge unless stewardship intervention occurs. But there is currently no government policy around stewardship of such water. Instead there is a passivity, a form of resignation, that passes for conventional farm management. Youth, the kids and the hired hands that are taking over farm management, they represent a window of opportunity. Convince them to look and think and act below the surface of water, and we humans may actually survive transition to a sustainable future.

Any more we must also include the small property owners encroaching on conventional farms. Their dreams of a fish pond, clean and pristine water, fish, are almost always interrupted by nature’s nonchalant “fill every niche” pattern. So without purposeful, fundamental stewardship, such ponds frequently become mosquito and midge factories.

While these are truly hopeful times, all of us must wake up to the fact that stewardship is fundamental. Use it or lose it. Track nature’s wetland effect. Nature as model. Not chemicals. Absolutely not chemical intervention. Choose environmental wisdom, stewardship, instead.