Grower shares view on biological pest management
HERSHEY, Pa. — Alex Traven, head grower of Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, Pa, shared his experiences with biological pest management in their greenhouses at a session at the 2020 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention during the last week in January.
Traven began by stressing that mindset is paramount. “Biological pest management is fundamentally different. … Anyone plugged into a conventional system and mindset will fail,” he said.
He contrasted what biocontrol systems are and what they are not. Starting with a system, he described it as proactive, preemptive, dynamic, observational and interactive, primary and committed to controlling pests, and a learning process.
A biocontrol system is not a rescue treatment, simple, prescriptive, secondary to a conventional spray regime, effective at eradicating pests, and infallible.
He also characterized activity in a biocontrol system as, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you do anything at all.”
Turning to managing biocontrols, Traven said, “You must start early.”
When selecting biocontrols, Traven stressed that there are many species of pests.
“Identification is critical,” he said.
Also, the number of species makes selection challenging adding, “Make no assumptions.”
He noted that the company order sheets often provide little information, and biocontrol agents are more complicated than chemical controls.
Plus, he said, “Don’t shop (based on) price alone.”
Managers must understand a pest population’s life cycle, because most biocontrol agents feed on part or parts of a life cycle.
In addition, you need to recognize other biocontrols that may appear during the season.
“There is competitive ecology,” he said, “and pests that eat other pests.” There are complex interactions—some pests perform differently on different plants. “Don’t rely on just one agent,” he said.
“Before the crop,” Traven advised, “Start clean.” Clean up weeds—they typically harbor insects. “It is extremely difficult to catch up to an existing population,” he pointed out. Sanitation is important. Locate and eliminate pest hideouts.
In addition, growers need to be aware that plants they have purchased elsewhere may have pesticide residues on them which can affect their own control measures.
Regarding planning, Traven suggested knowing in advance what pests will likely affect which plants, and establish a multi-pronged plan for prevention. Line up sources and materials, and make critical decisions then.
One significant decision is whether to use banker plants.
Traven said predator and parasite populations should be determined before the pests arrive.
If populations are high, measures are likely cost-effective.
He stressed that such a system is not complete and noted, “It requires long-term planning and skilled, dedicated attention.”
The dispersal and release function is beset with ample opportunities for reduced efficacy. Quality control is critical.
Traven suggested to “carefully consider ways to maximize success such as timing, location and dispersal methods. Have a system for dispersal and release.”
Turning to nematodes, Traven indicated they are effective when used correctly. But be certain to use the correct species.
Storage and handling, water treatment and timing are factors.
Application techniques such as drench or spray, pressure and filters should be checked at the hose end.
Also, examine the nematodes — if curling is apparent, they are alive; if they look straight and rigid, they are likely dead.
Finally, Traven reiterated, “Knowledge is key.” Plus, he compared biocontrol agent usage as a ‘web of interaction.’ Repeating a vital concept, he said, “You can’t pull one string.”
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