Greenhouse Biocontrol Goes Mainstream

Biological control has moved into the mainstream for greenhouse growers. After years of experimentation and new and improved technologies, these tools are becoming a regular part of integrated pest management (IPM) programs. And the timing couldn’t be better, as consumer demands for more sustainable production methods for the plants they buy are moving back upstream. Retailers have taken notice and many are beginning to set expectations for what they want to see from the growers they choose to buy from.

Biocontrol, of course, is a good fit for growers looking to add more sustainable tools in their production. Those that aren’t becoming familiar with these options risk being left behind as the market moves forward without them.

This was one of the most prominent themes of the recent Biocontrols USA West Conference & Expo, held March 7-9, 2018 in Carlsbad, CA, just north of San Diego. Nearly 400 growers, crop consultants, researchers, crop protection retailers, and industry suppliers took part in the event, taking a look at all aspects of biological control, from new products, to production and application techniques, to marketing promotions and supply chain considerations. Attendees also had access to one-on-one discussions with 45 of the biocontrol industry’s leading suppliers on their latest products and crop protection techniques.

The conference’s kickoff session, Biocontrol: The Retailer and Consumer Perspective, dug into some of the expectations from the ultimate customers for U.S. growers, with a panel discussion that included The Sustainability Consortium’s Amanda Raster, Arthij van der Veer of MPS, and Certis USA Executive Vice President Tim Damico. Damico shared data from the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2017 Food and Health Survey, citing sustainability as an important factor for more than half of consumers. And underlining the importance of biocontrol, he said, of those people, the most important aspect of sustainability is “Reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food.”

Attendees at the conference heard from a wide range of presenters, including leading growers who are successfully orienting biocontrol into their day-to-day production strategies. In addition to the general session topics, ornamentals growers had the opportunity to attend two breakout tracks dedicated specifically to the needs or protected production. Sessions covered topics including matching the right application equipment and techniques to various biocontrol products; sanitation and banker plants in the greenhouse; biocontrol strategies for thrips and Botrytis; and even tips to help you use your biocontrol program as a marketing tool for your business.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion on the ins and outs of an intriguing new class of biological products, biostimulants. Panelists including a consultant (David Holden, Holden Research & Consulting), a researcher (The Ohio State University’s Matt Kleinhenz), a grower (J&D Produce’s Carlos Lazcano), and a supplier (Michael Austin from Agrinos), each offered their takes on where these products fit for growers and how they can make the best and most profitable use of them in their production.

A pre-conference Biocontrols field tour visited greenhouse, fruit production groves and vineyards, and research facilities in the San Diego area. More than 50 tour attendees rode the bus to four stops where they learned about the latest biocontrol strategies for managing the Asian Citrus Psyllid, the vector for citrus greening, a tremendous potential threat to California’s fresh citrus industry; proper sanitation techniques for biocontrol programs; and the latest control strategies for key fruit pests including vine mealybug, red scale, purple scale, and citrus mealybug.

The conference concluded with a sold-out Biocontrol and Cannabis Production workshop led by Suzanne Wainwright-Evans of Buglady Consulting and Kelly Vance of Beneficial Insectary. Attendees learned a great deal about the basics of biocontrol that could be immediately incorporated into their production practices, including identification and biology of key pests as well as beneficials and predators; sanitation and trapping techniques; pesticide compatibility information; biocontrol release methods; and advice on how to purchase and quality check beneficials.

The next event in the Biocontrols Conference & Expo Series was also announced. The Biocontrols USA East Conference & Expo will be held Oct. 11-12, 2018 in Rochester, NY. Further details about the program and exhibitors will be announced in the coming weeks.

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