Starting a biocontrol program?

September 15, 2009
Written by Graeme Murphy
Greater numbers of growers are turning to biological control to combat pest problems. There are many different reasons for making the switch, but much of the interest has been driven by the increasing difficulties in controlling pests such as thrips with pesticides.

However, whatever the reasons behind a grower’s decision to use biocontrol, there are some basic preparations and planning that need to be done if the grower is to get the most out of the control program. This series of articles will examine the factors that should be considered:
  • What pests/crops do you have to deal with?
  • What are the control options?
  • When should you start?
  • Can pesticides fit into a biocontrol program?
  • What other strategies can be used?
However, before we get to the interesting stuff, we begin by looking at the information gathering process that forms the basis of a bio program. It may not be the sexiest of topics, but like many projects, the final product is only as good as the preparation that goes into it.

BIOCONTROL REQUIRES DIFFERENT SET OF SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE
Biological control is a vastly different strategy of pest management compared with a pesticide-based program and requires a different set of skills and knowledge. If you are going to make the change, it has to be a fully committed decision. Part of that commitment is to understand the biological control process as fully as possible. To begin, it is important to develop a list of resources that can be used as a library of information. There are many places to begin the search.

Other growers. There are so many growers who are now using biocontrol, that everyone probably has contacts in the growing community who have experience with it. In most cases there is an enthusiasm and willingness to share. This should not be your only source of information, but there is no substitute for the straight talk and common language that most growers share.

Biocontrol companies/distributors/consultants. Major biocontrol producers and distributors have technical specialists in the field who visit their customers on a regular basis to advise on the progress of biocontrol programs. However, their role is also critical in the initial planning of the program. They have a wealth of experience in various ornamental crops and the backup of a global information base. They also have access to a wide range of technical information from wall posters, information sheets and websites.

YOU ONLY NEED ONE GOOD IDEA TO MAKE A MEETING WORTHWHILE
Conferences/workshops/grower meetings. Conferences (e.g., Canadian Greenhouse Conference, Ohio Short Course) are an excellent way of getting information through listening to presentations, picking up printed material, and visiting exhibitors’ booths (biocontrol companies are usually present). It may be a cliché, but it is true that you only need to pick up one good idea to make the meeting worthwhile. Other workshops and grower meetings are often organized by government extension specialists, industry organizations and biocontrol companies and can offer a great way to get really practical information.

Internet. The Internet offers unprecedented access to information, however, it is important to be aware that the quality of that information can vary.
Remember, anyone can put anything on the Internet, so use credible sites. University, government and biocontrol producers have websites that provide photos, instructions and information on all aspects of biological control. If you read something on the net that you are unsure of, check with a trusted source before you act on it.

Trade magazines/books/factsheets. Trade magazines (such as Greenhouse Canada) have articles in almost every issue on various aspects of pest management. Even if an article is not directly about biocontrol, there is still often some relevance or connection that can be applied. There are many books on pest management generally and biocontrol specifically. Publishers often have booths at trade shows or catalogues on their websites. Or you can ask extension and technical specialists for a list of recommended books.

WORKING WITH GROWERS TO RESOLVE PRACTICAL ISSUES
Extension specialists/researchers. I’ve left the best for last! Provincial extension specialists and university/government researchers work with growers to develop solutions to problems. In the case of researchers, they work on specific problems in the lab and research greenhouses. Extension specialists transfer research information to growers and work with growers to develop programs and resolve practical issues.

In the end, remember that your biological control program should be a team effort. Team members will consist of your own greenhouse employees (we’ll talk more about that in another issue), your biocontrol supplier, and other contacts such as grower colleagues, consultants and provincial extension specialists working together for success. 

Graeme Murphy is the greenhouse floriculture IPM specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs at Vineland.
• 905-562-4141, ext. 106, or  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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