The Tipping Point With Biocontrols [Opinion]

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Richard Jones

We’ve heard a lot of growers talking about biocontrols in the last few months. The phrases, “We’re already using biologicals,” or, “We’re not using them now, but we know it’s something we need to be looking at” have come up so often, we decided to dig further into the trend with this month’s special Biocontrols Report.

The number of people considering biocontrols surprised me a bit. It’s not that this is really new stuff or that we haven’t already seen growers having success with the technology. It’s just that until recently, buy-in on the idea of entrusting your high-value crop to bugs and microbes has been, well, less than overwhelming.

So why, all of a sudden, are people giving biological controls a closer look?

In talking with growers for this report, the environmentally and employee-friendly angle popped up often, but it didn’t seem to be the main reason. Costs and simplicity certainly aren’t obvious advantages to biocontrols, particularly to someone who’s never tried it before.

It seemed to me the biggest driver is that growers are looking more and more for new tools to add to their pest control kits. Resistance to commonly used materials is a very real problem. Having an alternative that helps extend the life of valuable chemicals — and at the same time offers additional tangible benefits — makes biologicals worth exploring.

Know When The Time Is Right

So, are biocontrols going to be the next big thing for 2013?

The ultimate adoption of any technology doesn’t happen overnight. Growth typically starts slowly, with a few cutting-edge experimenters. If there are some obvious benefits for those early adopters, others begin trying it out. Eventually, you reach a tipping point where it seems like almost everyone is jumping on the bandwagon simultaneously.

Just think about some relatively recent examples: The Internet. Social media. Smartphones. Most of us eyed these developments a little warily at first. But when the benefits started to become apparent, more people joined in. Today, if you’re not using tools like these in your business or in your personal life, you’re most decidedly on the outside looking in at everyone else.

We haven’t reached that tipping point with biocontrols quite yet. To be honest, we may never get there. The common, wide-scale adoption of biologicals by the majority of growers is still off on the horizon.

This isn’t the silver-bullet pest control method we’d all like to have. But it does
appear to be a viable alternative for many crops and many growers. And it comes with a pretty darn good marketing message for sustainability-minded retail and consumer customers. At this point, biocontrol is at least worth a look. Nobody wants to be the last one on the bandwagon.

Richard Jones is the group editor for Greenhouse Grower and Today's Garden Center magazines.
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