5 Mistakes You May Be Making With Biocontrols

Kerri Stafford
Kerri Stafford

Starting a biocontrols program is a learning process and if there’s one thing for sure, it’s that you will make some mistakes. Here are five mistakes many growers encounter when they start with biocontrols.

Mistake #1: Looking at this as a “biocontrols program” rather than as an “IPM program.”

Most people come into a biocontrols program used to the way things are done with chemicals. They have a “zero-tolerance” mindset or expect to be able to fix a problem after it’s started. If you start out thinking you’re going to accomplish those things with a biocontrols program, you’re going to run into some roadblocks. Biocontrols don’t fix a problem. You have to use them before there is a problem.

It’s better to understand you’re implementing an integrated pest management (IPM) program. With that perspective, you’re going into this thinking about how you can use both chemicals and biologicals together. You can integrate softer, safer chemicals into a bio program. If you have a problem and have been using your biocontrols appropriately, you can spot spray. You can fix things without totally blowing up your biocontrols.

This was a change for us when we started a biocontrols program here at Cavicchio Greenhouses in 2008. We were using products in our chemical rotations that just aren’t bug friendly. You have to look at every chemical you use and the interactions they have with your biocontrols. You don’t want to kill the good bugs along with the bad bugs.

Mistake #2: Not planning in advance. Or just as bad, not adjusting a plan as needed during the season.

Planning is the biggest part of a biocontrols program. You want to be set up before any plants come in and before any issues start.

Once I have a plan for the season ready to go, I usually order everything I need on a weekly basis. Walking through our crops each week, we see if we need to make changes. Being able to adapt your plan to what you are seeing is very important.

For example, I forecast what we’ll need for our entire poinsettia program by the end of June. Poinsettias come in at the end of July. Then every week, we walk through the crop. If pest numbers are high, I’ll add a couple of things to next week’s order to build some extra protection into the plan.

A lot of the biocontrol companies will help you make a plan based on your square footage and what you are growing. The first year, we worked with a plan our supplier helped us put together. After that, we tweaked it in ways that worked better for us. It’s great to have a plan, but you have to be able to be versatile and change with the seasons, and weather patterns and what’s going on out there. If it turns out to be a big whitefly year, you want to have a good defense prepared.

Mistake #3: Having unrealistic expectations about what a biocontrols program can and should do.

Biocontrols are not a curative. You can’t wait for a problem to happen and then bring a program in. You have to start ahead of time and build up populations.

With a normal chemical program, when you see some thrips or whiteflies on a sticky card, you know you’ll be spraying soon. In a bio program, you can see a few pests on a sticky card and know it’s okay. I may know I have some pests around but I’m also seeing biocontrols on my sticky card, so that’s good. I’m looking closely at my plants and not seeing much of anything there, and what I am seeing is parasitized. So three whiteflies on the sticky card isn’t so bad. The next week if I see 10, I may bring in a little extra protection with more biocontrols, but I’m not going to go away from my plan.

It’s a hard transition to make from a chemical program to a bio program. You want to keep your same quality standards as a chemical program but give the customer a plant that is grown more sustainably.  When you start using biocontrols and you see a few pests on your cards, you get nervous. Some people will pull the trigger and spray something and then try to go back to biocontrols. That often won’t work, since whatever you sprayed may have a residual that kills your biocontrols.

Mistake #4: Not thinking about what’s happening to your product before you receive it.

If you don’t think about where your product is coming from and what it was treated with before you receive it, you may risk the possibility of having some problems in a biocontrols program. This goes for the plugs and cuttings you are planning to using a biocontrol program on, as well as finished items you have brought in to sell. Any plant in your greenhouse can play a role in how effective your bio program is. Everything we have coming in has been treated prior to us receiving it, and it may have been treated with chemicals with long residuals.

This happened to us one of our first years growing poinsettias with a biocontrol program. One of our liner suppliers treated those liners with something that harmed our biocontrols. That residual was on the plants for four weeks. We kept putting out bugs and all the bugs were dying. We had no idea why it wasn’t working.

Let your suppliers know you’re using biocontrols and ask about their spray program. Maybe they can tweak it a little bit so that it’s safe for you to start that bio program as soon as the liners arrive.

All of our suppliers are really willing to work with us. They share their lists of chemicals and have been more than happy to make a few changes.

Mistake #5: Having a “zero-tolerance” mindset.

You’re not using a chemical program anymore. Remember that IPM approach.

You have to be able to look at your sticky cards in an objective way with some tolerance and say it’s okay to have some pests. If I have biocontrols, they need to eat those whiteflies, or eat the larvae or parasitize it. That’s how they are going to live. Having some pests out there to feed your predators is a good thing.

It’s definitely hard to get past the “zero-tolerance” mindset, especially if you don’t understand the full reason for what you’re doing with a biocontrols program.

Changing that mindset in your operation is the first step but you may also have to let your retail customers know what you’re doing. We let our customers know ahead of time that we’re using biologicals, and they may occasionally see some of the biocontrols in the crop, or they may find one of the biological delivery cards on a plant. Overall, our customers have responded very positively and have welcomed our efforts to move our pest control in a more sustainable direction.

In the end, my best advice to help you avoid these mistakes is to believe in your program, follow your plan and watch it all the way through. Start slow. Ask questions.

Biocontrol companies have great staffs that will come in, work with you and help you get started. Take advantage of those resources. They want you to be successful as much as you want to be successful.


Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

More From Crop Inputs...
Yoshimi And Grace Shibata

November 26, 2015

American Floral Endowment Establishes Fund To Honor Legacy Of Yoshimi Shibata

Yoshimi “Shimi” Shibata, a flower grower and wholesale florist, passed away in October at the age of 100.

Read More
Vinca 'Valiant Lilac' (2015 Texas A&M University Field Trials)

November 25, 2015

2015 Texas A&M University (Overton, Texas) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton, Texas.

Read More
Capsicum 'Basket of Fire' (2015 University of Georgia Field Trials)

November 25, 2015

2015 University Of Georgia (Athens, Ga.) Field Trials Results

See the 2015 field trials results (includes photo gallery) for the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga.

Read More
Latest Stories
Stockosorb Crystals_with water Agriculture leaf (Evonick)

November 21, 2015

9 Sustainable Growing Media Products For Superior Green…

Manufacturers are delivering new growing media products to help growers attempt to minimize their footprint without sacrificing quality. Here are nine new products to consider for your greenhouse operation.

Read More
Suzanne Wainwright-Evans

November 16, 2015

Real-World Biocontrols Trends From The Buglady

During ,em>Greenhouse Grower's Top 100 Breakfast at Cultivate'15, Suzanne Wainwright-Evans of Buglady Consulting discussed trends in biocontrols, including what she has seen from breeders, growers and even public gardens.

Read More

October 13, 2015

Bayer CropScience And OHP To End Marketing Partnership …

The move allows Bayer to market its ornamental products directly to greenhouses and nurseries, although OHP will still service a limited line of Bayer products.

Read More
RISE 2015 Governing Board

October 13, 2015

RISE Annual Meeting Celebrates 25 Years of Industry Adv…

The annual meeting for RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), held the last week of September in Orlando, was more than just presentations, awards and the election of new officers. It was also a celebration of 25 years as a leading advocate for the specialty pesticide and fertilizer industries.

Read More

October 9, 2015

New Biochemical Miticide Is Designed To Combat Varroa M…

EPA recently registered Potassium Salts of Hops Beta Acids (K-HBAs), which is intended to fit into a rotation program to battle resistance.

Read More

October 7, 2015

Ball FloraPlant Eliminates Neonicotinoid Use On Its Off…

Ball FloraPlant has announced its offshore cuttings farms did not use neonicotinoid-based pest management chemicals during its spring crop production last shipping season, and will continue to be neonic free this year. Instead, the company and its greenhouse managers have relied on alternative means to supply insect-free cuttings to its global customer base.

Read More
Nemasys And Millenium Beneficial Nematodes from BASFm_Nematodes

October 7, 2015

How BASF’s UK Biological Production Facility Expa…

BASF has expanded its biologicals production facility in Littlehampton, UK. The new capacity increases the company’s ability to double the production of beneficial nematodes and inoculants.

Read More

September 25, 2015

Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association Announces Early…

According to an August 31 survey of members of the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Association (CSPMA), whose members represent approximately 95 percent of all North American peat production, the peat harvest season has been adequate, but not strong, and could cause shortages and potentially higher transportation costs. Down To The Dirty Details The survey inquired about the status of CSPMA members’ 2015 Actual Harvest (including an estimate of what can be expected to be harvested for the remainder of the season) as a percentage of their 2015 Expected Harvest. The lack of a strong harvest overall may challenge peat availability. The Prairie Provinces (Manitoba 98 percent, Saskatchewan 88 percent and Alberta 94 percent), experienced early favorable weather conditions and a strong start to the year. This helped to minimize periodic, negative, weather-related conditions during the balance of the harvest season, and the harvest numbers are close to achieving the expected amounts. […]

Read More

September 23, 2015

New Crop Protection Products And Label Updates

Here are some of the most recent products released and label updates for crop protection agents in the greenhouse and nursery market. Fame Fungicides (FMC Corp.) FMC Corp. has introduce Fame fungicides, a family of FRAC 11 group (Strobilurin) products that delivers fast-acting, patented fluoxastrobin protection against major soil and foliar diseases. Rainfast in 15 minutes, Fame fungicides can be used on most greenhouse and nursery plants and provide fast foliar and root uptake. “Proven by university research, Fame fungicides offer fluoxastrobin action, which ensures a high degree of systemic activity to provide very rapid disease protection and stop further growth of established disease,” says Naimur Rahman, strategy and fungicide marketing product manager for FMC. The Fame fungicide family includes: • Fame SC: a suspension concentrate fungicide containing fluoxastrobin that controls major diseases, including anthracnose, downy mildew, powdery mildew, scab and leaf spot. It provides rapid foliar and root uptake […]

Read More
Offshore farm profiles Dummen Orange Las Mercedes Solanaceas GH

September 8, 2015

Dümmen Orange Implementing Consistent Standards On All …

Owning and operating several locations can be a challenge in maintaining consistent quality and cleanliness across the board. This is true of both breeders and growers. But those who do it right have invested in technology and practices that ensure that plant quality matches, no matter where their plants are shipped from. That’s the goal for Dümmen Orange. Now the world’s largest producer of unrooted cuttings, the company has a combined 150 hectares or 370 acres of production space worldwide, dedicated to cuttings production. Recent acquisitions of product portfolios, both this year and in the past few, has raised the company’s cuttings production expectation to more than 1.4 billion, including 350 million in North America. It has farms all over the world (see the 2015 Top Cuttings Producers ranking to see where), and produces cuttings for its own genetics, as well as collaborating with more than 30 third-party breeders across all […]

Read More
Bill Lewis grower manager at Delray Plants

August 31, 2015

Delray Plants Takes Preventative Approach To Pest Contr…

Trying to control pests effectively on a wide variety of crops is a major undertaking. Delray Plants in Venus, Fla., has been using biological controls as a part of its pest control program for more than 10 years. It operates 300 acres, which includes covered structures and 7 acres of outdoor field production.

Read More
Bob’s Market and Greenhouses’ Ron Morris pours Stockosorb into the hopper for distribution on the conveyor line

August 13, 2015

How Bob’s Market And Greenhouses Improved Growing…

My father started our company 45 years ago growing bedding plants, mainly early season production and finished plants for our West Virginia market. It was in the early 1980s that we started growing earlier spring production and shipping materials to southern markets, and by the late 1980s, we also produced pansies for fall. We started using hydrogels when they first came on the market in the early 1990s and found that they really helped with our production by keeping plants healthier for these new markets. Over the years, we’ve grown to be a large young plant producer and have a sizable business growing finished plants in cell packs, 4 1/2-inch pots, 6-inch pots, gallon containers, hanging baskets, multiple sizes of large containers and large baskets for municipal use. Creating The Ideal Soil Mix With our old system, it took several workers to mix pre-made soil with slow-release fertilizers in cement […]

Read More
Fertilizer Rates Feature Image

August 12, 2015

Selecting Fertilizer Rates For Several Spring Bedding P…

Fertilizing bedding plants can be difficult due to the differing needs of the large variety of plants that we grow. Many operations do not grow enough of any one crop to cater the fertilizer specifically for each crop. Therefore, grouping crops with similar fertilizer requirements and having two to three fertilizer strengths available is a practical way to ensure plants are getting the fertilizer they need. With many new plant varieties on the market, we wanted to conduct a trial at Cornell University to determine best fertilizer rates for several common bedding plant crops. 22 Bedding Plants Studied To Establish Fertilizer Rates Plugs and rooted liners of 22 crops (Table 1) were transplanted into 4-inch (500 mL volume) round pots with a commercial peat/perlite based substrate. The plants were grown in a glass greenhouse at Cornell University during the spring season at a spacing of one plant per square foot. Heating set […]

Read More
Feature image The Aphid Guard Aphid Banker Plant, coming soon to the market, supports beneficial insect populations.

June 21, 2015

The Latest In Crop Protection

Protecting your plants from the latest threats is no easy task, but new product lines promise to safely and effectively eliminate a wide range of pests and diseases, without harming your employees or the environment.

Read More
Bee On Flower

June 18, 2015

Pest Management And Marketing Strategies For Bee-Friend…

Michigan State University Extension shares pest management practices to produce plants that are safe for pollinators and marketing strategies for clearing up confusion about bee-friendly plants.

Read More

June 13, 2015

UMASS Fertilizer Trials Recommend Nature’s Source Organ…

In a recent online fact-sheet at its Extension website, the UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment lists Nature’s Source Organic Plant Food 3-1-1 as “the best liquid organic fertilizer,” according to Dr. Douglas Cox, Stockbridge School of Agriculture. It is called-out by the Extension after a number of years of studying the use of organic fertilizers for growing commercial greenhouse crops. The trials evaluated traditional water soluble and granular slow-release chemical fertilizers. Dr. Cox recommends Nature’s Source Organic Plant Food 3-1-1 as a liquid fertilizer that is readily available, cost effective, OMRI-listed and with good label directions for greenhouses. He also mentions the ease-of-use in how it mixes well with water and can pass fertilizer injectors. “Nature’s Source is currently the best liquid organic fertilizer,” Cox wrote in his article “Organic Fertilizers – Thoughts on Using Liquid Organic Fertilizers for Greenhouse Plants,” “I have seen no foliar chlorosis yet with this fertilizer. Nature’s source is widely available and a great […]

Read More

June 10, 2015

BASF’s Sultan Miticide Receives California Regist…

BASF Sultan miticide recently received registration in California, giving ornamental growers a new rapid, targeted mode of action for mite control. Sultan miticide, with active ingredient cyflumetofen, offers ornamental growers targeted knockdown of all life stages of tetranychid mites, with long residual control. It has practically no toxicity to beneficial insects, including predatory mites and pollinators. Sultan miticide offers a new mode of action to combat cross-resistance with other commercial miticides, and is compatible with integrated pest management programs (IPM). “The long-awaited California registration of Sultan miticide is exciting news. Greenhouse, nursery and landscape professionals in the state now have a new class of chemistry that gives them fast control over all life stages of plant-damaging mite populations,” says Joe Lara, senior product manager for BASF. “Sultan miticide now provides California growers with a much needed new first choice for miticide resistance management programs that won’t disrupt populations of beneficial […]

Read More
Bee on a Sedum

May 27, 2015

Industry Associations State Their Support Of National P…

AmericanHort, Society of American Florists, American Floral Endowment and Horticultural Research Institute joined together to embrace key aspects of the federal government’s recently announced National Strategy for the Protection of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. The long-awaited strategy has three major goals: reducing honey bee colony losses, increasing Monarch butterfly populations, and restoring or enhancing millions of acres of land as pollinator habitat through public and private action. According to the statement, the associations are studying the details, but they agree that the overall approach appears balanced and mostly sensible. The rest of the statement reads as follows: “The national strategy’s overarching goals dovetail well with the focus of the ongoing Horticulture Industry Bee and Pollinator Stewardship Program. Under that initiative, we have directly funded several priority research projects, and collaborated on additional research funded by others, to provide critical scientifically sound guidance for professional horticulturists. We are developing a grower […]

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]