This year’s Greenhouse Grower Top 100 Growers Breakfast discussion, sponsored by BASF, centered around the same theme presented in Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers report in May, highlighting growers’ evolving crop protection challenges, including increased regulation of not only neonicotinoids but attention toward other crop protection agents, as well. Based on some of the developments in crop protection in recent years, in the advent of the pollinator health issue and consumer dissent about neonicotinoids and pesticides in general, Greenhouse Grower asked its panel of speakers to share new trends in crop protection worldwide, how growers are adapting with biocontrols and integrated pest management and what the future holds for growers and the supply chain, from the breeder all the way down to the end consumer.
Suzanne Wainwright-Evans of Buglady Consulting was one of the speakers. She discussed trends in biocontrols, including what she has seen from breeders, growers and even public gardens.
A transcript of Wainwright-Evans’ presentation appears below, or you can watch this video:
“I’m in a little different position than a lot of others in our industry in that I am a completely independent consultant. I took a pretty firm ground about 13 to 14 years ago when I started my business, that I wasn’t going to sell any product, because I learned very quickly that I’m a terrible salesperson. So I’ve worked throughout the industry, for just over 20 years, throughout the U.S. and Canada. I’ve been doing more work in the Caribbean, working on pest management programs, and going in and fixing issues, but there’s definitely been a focus on biocontrol. I decided in middle school I was going to do this, so I was predestined to do this.
What I have seen is when I started a long time ago in Florida, there was a lot of door knocking. Luckily there were a few growers down in Florida, like Delray Plants, who were really interested in biocontrols back then and saw a need for it. They let me use their growing facilities as a kind of playground to learn how to use biocontrols, because there wasn’t a lot of information available. And even to this day, I’m sure all of you know when you go to get information for biocontrols, where do you go to get concise information? There isn’t a lot of concise information out there. But from the flip side of me going door to door, I’m pretty much working seven days a week now,and I’m getting on a plane almost every week. The growth in biocontrols for insects, mites, beneficial nematodes and fungi has been going up and up, and we’re seeing biocontrol facilities increase in production to meet demand of the industry, and we’re still having shortage issues to meet the demand.
When my phone rings, the number-one reason that people call me is because they cannot control a pest. It’s never the warm, fuzzy, “I care about the environment” issue. It’s “I can’t control it, get here now, and fix it” kind of thing. In the last two years, I’ve been getting more calls because the grower told me he wants to reduce the use of neonicotinoids, and my job is not to be involved in the political end of it. My job is to help reduce neonics, and how we can implement biocontrols and other pesticides. Also, worker safety has become more of an issue, because growers are concerned about exposure of their employees. Runoff is another one, because some of the customers I’ve dealt with, they are being checked on by their state about what is running off or for some of the environmental certifications, they are interested in what is coming out of the tailpipe of the nursery or greenhouse, as I call it.
The people who are most successful are generally starting in one house, with one crop. The mistakes made are that people come in and just try to change their whole growing operation too fast. You need to start very specific, very targeted on something we know we can control. Fungus gnats are one; we use nematodes, which I call the gateway drug to biocontrol because once you start using nematodes, you realize it can be done and you can be very successful and then move on to some of the more complex programs. But one of the ways things can go wrong is if you do have large houses, and you pick one crop over here for biocontrols, but then you’re not doing it on this one, if you come in and spray over here, people think there is no wind so there is no spray drift, but there is spray drift. The technologies today let you take a leaf off a plant, and you can send it in to the USDA and get your five-page report to tell you parts per billion on fungicides and insecticides and plant growth regulators. You can find out how much your’e drifting.
One of the focuses that I’ve seen changing, finally, is in propagation. Propagators are starting to look more at biocontrols, because let’s say you’re a finished grower and you want to use bios, but you’ve just brought in liners that, dare I say, have been nuked with so many chemicals on them. For some of these chemistries, we’re looking at two months before you can release biocontrol agents on them. So if the propagators are doing them at an earlier stage, that means when the finished people get their liners or plugs or young plants, they’re not coming with the pesticide residue; they’re coming preinoculated with the beneficials, So it’s easier to continue on that biocontrol program. It’s really the propagators’ need to even do more. And also, you’re not getting insects riding in on the plant material that already have insecticide resistance. Canada has done some great work showing that in some young plant material, the cuttings are coming in with white fly eggs, they’re coming in with thrips eggs, they’re coming in with immature white flies. They are coming in with pests, and you know if you complain, they’re just going to spray more, which can create even bigger resistance issues. So working with propagation has become more and more of something that I’ve been seeing in the industry lately.
Other trends we’re seeing are that we know pests are not going to be eradicated. 15 to 20 years ago, growers came in with a pesticide and they loved to see the insects curl up and die and fall off a plant. They used to talk about how great that was. This eradication and these really hard chemicals are just not part of our future. You have to grow a clean plant with no damage, and you are not going to be able to eradicate western flower thrips, you cannot eradicate spider mites. Tou need to suppress them to a level that the plant is good and sellable, and nobody complains.
Conservation of beneficials is something that people are asking me about more, which I think our industry has overlooked, because the beneficials, the native ones, they are free workers for you. And something that happens quite often is I’m brought in because there’s a problem, and growers are spraying to kill beneficials. Those are free tools, with no dollar signs attached, working for you. So you really need to take time to get educated on those beneficials. Because what’s happening is, we’re not using these broad-spectrum chemistries anymore, and more of the native beneficials are coming in, and they are showing up in greenhouses. Even though they’re buttoned up and sealed, those beneficials will get in there.
We’re also seeing more banker plant systems being used to not only keep the beneficials you’re buying happier in your growing facility, but again, we’re bringing in some of the beneficials by attracting pollen. It’s hard to see [in this slide] because it’s bright, but here are mums being grown and these are all banker plants being grown and put out to provide pollen to one of our native species, Orius. So the Orius who feed on thrips, spider mites and immature caterpillars, they can feed on the pollen here and then they’ll go out and look for the pests, and then they come back. So this way, you’re able to not have to buy beneficials as often, as well as attracting some of your native beneficials.
And this growing facility here with this grower, they actually did no insecticide applications on these mums for several years, using this system, and they marketed them that way. They would send out banners to the garden centers.
Another trend is rearing your own. This is something new. I’ve had some of my customers rear their own predatory mites. Dr. Lance Osborne has worked very hard to try to get growers to grow their own predatory mites. The growers just don’t have time for one more project, and that is the reality of what I’ve seen happening there. I’ve seen more growers looking at doing their own nematodes, but again, you have to have someone who can do it and has the time to do it. Another thing I’m seeing is when I have been talking with gardeners or even with finished growers, they’re asking who is growing the plants and how they’re grown. And the gardeners are interested in who is growing biocontrols. I have made an effort this year to speak to a lot of master gardeners and a lot of garden clubs, and I show them pictures of the amazing things that growers like Delray Plants have been doing. The changes that growers have made to integrate more biocontrols, and they say, well, we want to buy from these people. We want to support these people. They have no way of knowing who these people are. It’s the same thing with when you’re growing plants, when you’re growing the liners, I’ve said for years: you need to let your finished people know you’re using bios in your liner production because finished people are looking for growers who are growing.
In the interiorscape industry, they’ll ask me which growers are growing with bios, because they want to bring in plants that have been grown with biocontrol agents so they’ll continue working on the interior. Another thing is, I’m working a lot more with public gardens and this is a project I worked on at the Biltmore Estate. A lot of these public gardens are open 365 days a year, kids are touching the plants and they don’t want to be seen out in spray suits because of public perception. But I’ve been working more and more, and we’re using a lot of biocontrol agents, releasing them outside, on these living sculptures, but also out in the landscape. So we’re doing a lot more augmented biocontrol in the landscape, which people tend to think can’t be done, but I always say biocontrols started outside, so it’s silly to think it wouldn’t work outside.
Every program is different. I’ve never been able to take one of the programs I’ve worked with and just print it out and hand it to another grower and say here, make this work. You’ve got microclimates, you’ve got different pesticides, people have a different way of spraying, you have a different pest complex, so it is not one size fits all. You’ve got to learn how to make it work at your facility. One of the guys from Syngenta always says it’s like baking a cake. There are lots of ways to do it. You stilll end up with a very good result, but there are lots of ways of doing it.
Anytime you have money around, a lot of people get involved, and you have to make sure you work with someone who knows what they’re doing. Everybody is selling biocontrol agents today. Make sure you work with someone who knows what they’re doing with biocontrols. I have seen a lot of wasted money, and when I talk to people and they say biocontrol doesn’t work, I tried it and it failed. I ask what they do, and they weren’t even doing the right thing or releasing the right biocontrol agent. So make sure you work with somebody that does.
Pesticides and spray drift, pesticide residue on the plants you brought in, pesticide drift from the farm field next to your nursery, or even in a greenhouse if it’s getting sucked in through the air vents; that stuff is going to impact your program, so you have to understand how these pesticides impact beneficials. You’re seeing more companies, like BASF and Syngenta, testing their compounds against beneficials. I know that with BASF’s new miticide Sultan, they’ve done a lot of screening and work with beneficials, so we know about compatibility issues there.