Biocontrol was the highlight, but its crucial role in integrated pest management programs was the underlying focus of the recent Biocontrols USA 2016 Conference & Expo. The consistent message throughout the two-day event was the need to constantly adapt to use all of the tools in your crop protection toolbox, including biopesticides and other biocontrols.
“We’re really going to have to change the way we do things,” said Denise Manker, Director, Agronomic Development of Biologics, Bayer CropScience Biologics Division.
More than 450 growers, certified pest control advisers, researchers, and allied company representatives attended the event — presented by Meister Media Worldwide in conjunction with the Biopesticide Industry Alliance — in Monterey, CA, March 3-4.
Grounded, how-to sessions educated growers and crop advisers on a variety of topics. Presentations provided information on everything from details on new biopesticide product releases for 2016, to techniques for implementing a biocontrols trial in your own operation, to effectively combining biopesticides and beneficials. One session even covered up-and-coming techniques, including RNA interference and the highly publicized CRISPR, which may well be the next significant leaps in pest control technology.
Dozens of attendees also took advantage of a field tour of biocontrol use in Salinas Valley vegetable fields and in the production system at greenhouse ornamentals young plant grower, Pacific Plug & Liner in Watsonville, CA. Others took part in a three-hour workshop offering hands-on methods and advice to improve the use of biocontrol in their operations.
In addition to the day and a half of conference educational sessions, attendees had an opportunity to meet one-on-one with nearly 40 leading biocontrol product and service suppliers from around the country and around the world.
Travis Higginbotham, Research and Development Manager for Battlefield Farms, explained his efforts at adopting tools like biocontrols that help improve the sustainability of the business as a whole. Battlefield Farms, a large greenhouse ornamentals operation in Rapidan, VA, recently began a program for in-house rearing of beneficial nematodes.
“Many of our growers have been here for 20 years. They are very experienced, so it can be hard to transition to biocontrols when they know they can grow a good plant with traditional materials. But we’re getting to the point that consumers are starting to dictate our practices a bit. Because of that, we’re all becoming a bit more positive about using biocontrols,” Higginbotham said.
Battlefield’s program is currently rearing four different nematode species: Steinernema feltiae, S. carpocapsae, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, and H. indica for control of fungus gnats, Western flower thrips, and shore fly.
Higginbotham encouraged attendees to consider trying similar programs, but emphasized that growers should trial the process first and see how it works for them.
“You will need to spend time to work out the kinks and manipulate the program to fit your situation,” he said. “This process takes a lot of time until you are familiar with it. An IPM strategy takes longer than just opening a lid or tearing open a bag and pouring contents into a concentrate. This is much more active than other ways of treating.”
On the positive side, he added, you can eliminate costs associated with personal protective equipment (PPE), re-entry intervals (REI), and tricky storage requirements.
“Containers, an incubation area, sieves, and scoops are all you need,” he said.
Suzanne Wainwright-Evans, Horticultural Entomologist and owner of Buglady Consulting, led a session on “Forensic Biocontrol: How Do You Know Your Biocontrol Program Is Working?” She also presented a three-hour “how-to” focused workshop for attendees interested in getting better results with a biological control program.
Her sessions covered the full gamut of questions growers often have when trying biocontrols for the first time, or improving on existing programs, including:
- How to choose a biocontrol supplier
- Supplies you need
- Tips on measuring biological control quality
- How to get the most out of your beneficial nematodes
- Using banker plants, and
- Pesticide compatibility issues.
Continuing the theme of biological control and IPM, she emphasized the need to really understand your plant, your pest, and how the control product you’re planning to use will impact its target. If you’re not used to working with these tools, the results you think you’re seeing may not actually be what’s happening.
“Make sure you know the effect of the chemistry on the insects. It may not be a direct flat-out kill. It’s important to know the different effects, like paralyzing mouth parts, etc.,” Wainwright-Evans said.
Working with a live product can be unfamiliar and has its own challenges, so it’s critical to understand how to properly store, handle, and apply biocontrols to give yourself the best chance for success.
“You need to make sure your beneficials are doing their job,” she said.