With major scientific advances over the last decade, the standards for the production and handling of biocontrols have improved immensely. Growers who may have had less-than-positive experiences with biocontrol agents 10 years ago are now generally very successful simply due to improved production, handling and shipping techniques.
That said, you still need to keep a few things in mind as you order, receive, store, and apply your predators, says Suzanne Wainwright-Evans, owner of Buglady Consulting and one of the expert speakers at the upcoming Biocontrols 2015 Conference and TradeshowSM, organized by Meister Media Worldwide in conjunction with the Biopesticide Industry Alliance (BPIA):
1. First and most important to ensure your best chance for successful control of any pest, Wainwright-Evans says, is making sure you have the right beneficial for the right pest. It may sound obvious, but proper pest ID is step number one when using biocontrols.
“Beneficials are generally very specific in what they control. There are some really good biocontrols for Western Flower Thrips, but they may not work for other kinds of thrips,” she says. “It may be hard to tell thrips apart, but make sure you know you’re dealing with Western Flower Thrips, for example, before determining what control you plan to use.
2. Understand how different biocontrols are shipped. Again, this may sound like a small thing, but you’ll save yourself a lot of worry and some potential problems by gathering this information up front.
“Different beneficials are shipped in different ways,” Wainwright-Evans says. Many mites, for example, are typically shipped packed in ice. Sachets, on the other hand, often come in a box with slots in the side that allow the sachets to breathe.”
She says she has worked with growers who expected a shipment to come packed in ice and when it didn’t, they assumed the beneficials weren’t viable when they arrived and destroyed them.
“Ask your supplier in advance how the package will come. That will save you a lot of worry and concern down the road,” she says. Keep in mind different supplier may ship in different ways.
3. Watch for red flags when shipments arrive. While most suppliers are now very good at preparing packages for the rigors of shipment, shipping delays or inadvertent breaks in temperature control can cause real problems, Wainwright-Evans says. “A package left out too long in the cold this time of year, or too long in a hot delivery truck in the summer can affect the viability of your beneficials. If the temperature in the box seems off one way of another when you receive shipment, contact the insectary immediately for directions. Always pay close attention to the condition of your order,” she says.
4. Inspect the product before applying it in the crop. “Make sure things look and smell right,” Wainwright-Evans says.
Whether it’s a bottle of predatory mites or a container of nematodes, there are some quick and fairly simple steps you can take to make sure your beneficials are alive, healthy, and ready to go to work for you.
“We will cover these steps at the Biocontrols 2015 Conference, but, for example, with predatory mite release sachets, you can use sticky cards to monitor how many mites are emerging out of the sachet. This will give you a good estimate of the number of mites reaching your crop,” she says.
5. Finally, this might seem like a no-brainer, but make sure whoever receives deliveries at your business knows a shipment of beneficials is coming. Have them watch for the shipment and immediately store it properly upon arrival. (If unsure how to store the biocontrol agents, ask your suppler.) Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, and some valuable beneficial predators don’t survive to do their jobs.
“I’ve seen it happen,” Wainwright-Evans says. “A grower calls the supplier to complain that he didn’t receive his shipment and finds out it was delivered a few days earlier. Then they start looking and find the box sitting in a store room and all the beneficials are dead. That’s an expensive mistake, but one that’s easy to avoid.”