Real-World Pest Control Solutions Were Front and Center at Biocontrols USA East
Increasing consumer demand for more sustainable production methods. An always-evolving mix of pest pressures, resistance issues, and shrinking labor resources. Brand new biological products to understand. There are no easy answers to these challenges, of course, but the Biocontrols USA East Conference & Expo convened in Rochester, NY, in early October to help growers understand how biological control tools and techniques can play a role.
300 attendees and 40 expert speakers joined dozens of leading biological control exhibitors to discuss real-world solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing growers today. Educational tracks for the program were built around all elements of biological control in specialty crops including vegetable crops, fruit crops, and organic production. Some of the most popular sessions, however, centered on protected production and greenhouse ornamentals.
As anyone who has implemented a biocontrol program knows, biologicals often work differently than other products you’re probably more familiar with. That can make trialing these tools a challenge for growers. Trial Manager, Research & Development for Metrolina Greenhouses, Lida Sladkova, and BioWorks’ Biological Program Manager, Plant Pathology, Matthew Krauss, offered actionable advice from their own experience in trialing these products in the greenhouse.
Sladkova said a highly measurable and well-planned program is critical from the beginning to be able to know how biological tools are performing.
“You have to have a specific goal. Know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish with the trial,” she said.
“Have realistic expectations. There are no silver bullets. Biocontrols can’t make a bad grower good,” Krauss added.
Biobest’s Paul Koole walked attendees in the Protected Production session through tips for calculating the true cost of a biocontrol program. It requires you to look beyond just the cost of the materials, he said.
“A typical look at the numbers might make it look like the costs of using biocontrols vs. conventional sprays is more expensive,” Koole said. “But when you look at time lost to re-entry intervals, resistance — and respraying — there are soft costs to consider.”
Michael Brownbridge, Research Director, Horticultural Production Systems, at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Ontario, walked attendees through the benefits of dipping ornamentals cuttings in biocontrol solutions early in the production cycle. By using dips, he said, you can eliminate stronger pesticide treatments that can throw a serious wrench in your ability to use predators and other biological control agents later.
“Dipping works well to help suppress pest populations, but the bigger benefit is that it gives you many more tools to manage pests throughout the entire crop production cycle,” Brownbridge said.
A perennial favorite among Biocontrols Conference attendees, Buglady Consulting’s Suzanne Wainwright-Evans detailed the ins and outs of many of the different microbial biopesticides on the market for greenhouse production, and how they can be used most effectively in IPM programs.
University of California-Davis Associate Professor Christian Nansen made an eye-opening presentation on biocontrol from a different angle: machine learning, cameras, and drones as tools for crop protection and production. These new technologies are already being implemented in greenhouse crops, and more research is showing the potential for identifying and treating stresses and pest problems earlier than ever in the process.
“This is how agriculture is evolving. It’s not a question of whether it’s going to happen but when, and whether you want to be a part of this,” Nansen said.
The conference was bookended by additional real-world content, with optional events including a tour and a workshop.
Prior to the conference program, attendees were able to see first-hand how biological control is being employed in fruit, vegetable, and ornamental crops on a day-long Biocontrols and Organics Field Tour. Stops throughout the western Finger Lakes region included a 55-acre greenhouse vegetable operation, an ornamental grower and retailer, fruit and vegetable production at Wegmans’ Organic Farms, and current biological research projects at the Cornell Agritech Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. The tour concluded with a vineyard visit and wine tasting at Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard.
Following the conclusion of the conference sessions, attendees were able to take part in a deep dive on biocontrol with a workshop, “Demystification of Biopesticides for Managing Pests in Fruit and Vegetables.” The afternoon-long session, led by BAAR Scientific’s Chris Becker, walked growers through a detailed list of available biological tools and how they can be used to keep key Eastern insect and disease pests under control.
The Rochester event was just the latest in Meister Media Worldwide’s series of Biocontrol events throughout North America. The next U.S. event, the Biocontrols 2019 Conference and Expo, will take place in Portland, OR, March 14-15, 2019. And coming up this December, Bio Central will take a look at biological tools for growers in Mexico.