More than 400 growers, pest control advisers and certified crop advisers, researchers, government regulators and suppliers gathered in Fresno on March 3-5 for the Biocontrols 2015 Conference & Tradeshow. This event — a first of its kind focused solely on the use of biopesticides and other biocontrols — brought attendees together for an in-depth discussion on the latest tools available, “how-to” production topics, market trends and regulatory issues.
Attendees also spent time with nearly 40 exhibitors learning about new technologies, techniques and services bringing biocontrols into the mainstream with growers all over the country.
“Ours is a very economic and science-based business culture,” said Gary Schulz, the new CEO of the California Association Of Pest Control Advisers. “We encourage our pest control advisers (PCAs) to use all of the tools they have available, traditional chemicals, as well as many of the new softer materials including biopesticides and biocontrols.”
Sessions covered a broad range of topics from crop-specific production techniques for fruit, vegetable and ornamental crops to broader industry issues, including a spirited discussion on maximum residue levels and how biocontrols can help growers stay under tolerance limits for sales to both U.S. and international markets.
“The EPA is trying to develop a more predictable regulatory process for these materials,” said Robert McNally, director of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division.
Dr. Surendra Dara, strawberry and vegetable crops adviser and affiliated IPM adviser with University of California Cooperative Extension, pointed out that as more useful biological products are becoming available, the technology is dealing more successfully with the perception issues that have plagued it in the past. But there’s still work to do.
“I hear all the time that people stay away from biopesticides for reasons I don’t think are necessarily accurate. People may think they are ‘mainly for organic agriculture,’ for example. But biopesticides do not have to be just for organic production. These are tools for conventional growers, too,” he said. “These materials do work.”
Another common objection is that they’re not perceived to be as effective as conventional materials. Dara said he sees growers try to incorporate a biopesticide into a program, but give up on the technology after one try if they don’t get the results they wanted.
“It might be true that a biopesticide product didn’t work as well as you expected, but remember that even conventional products don’t work as you hope they will every time. You don’t stop using conventional products if they fail. I think the bar is sometimes set a little higher for biopesticides,” Dara said.
Applications In Ornamentals
While the conference covered biocontrols in several crop areas, ornamental growers got hands-on production and program management tips from two experienced industry experts on the topic, Lloyd Traven and Suzanne Wainwright-Evans.
Traven, owner of Peace Tree Farm in Kintnersville, Pa., set the tone early in the conference, talking about the potential for biocontrols in the greenhouse.
“I talk to people all the time who ask if using biocontrols is only possible in monoculture production. I tell them, ‘Absolutely not!’”
Peace Tree Farm produces 2,000 species and cultivars, all organically, and each with its own specific complex of pest and disease pressures. Traven releases 20 different biocontrols organisms in the greenhouse each year. With that much going on, it can sometimes be hard to tell exactly what’s happening — other than it’s working.
“The only thing we know for sure is somebody is eating somebody,” Traven said. “It’s a very complex process. It’s not as simple as just releasing predators in the greenhouse. There is no book that tells you how to do this.”
Wainwright-Evans, owner of Buglady Consulting in Slatington, Pa., wowed attendees with high-resolution video of predators and prey in the greenhouse, as well as some demonstrations of labor-saving devices and methods for applying beneficials to your crops. She also pointed out that there is a ton of information out there to help growers develop their own successful programs.
“My best advice is to make sure you’re dealing with a quality supplier, both with the predators and the information they provide to help you be successful,” she said. “Working with a good company is essential. They will become your friends.”
On the plus side, she said, biocontrols suppliers and their products have continually improved in recent years.
“I don’t lose sleep over quality anymore,” she said.
Traven told attendees that while there is some trial and error in developing a greenhouse biocontrol program, if you’re committed to making it work, you can be successful.
“What we’re doing in our greenhouses might not work in yours, but we’re finding a system that works in our situation,” Traven said. “We’re told continually that what we’re trying to do is impossible. But we’re making it work.”