Over the past few years, a number of the go-to pest management tools have been taken off the market by manufacturers or edict from the EPA. But, while the conventional crop protection portfolio has been shrinking, the offerings and emergence of biological-based solutions have been growing.
A report by research firm Frost and Sullivan suggested that the value of biopesticides was $594 million in 2008 and predicted it would nearly double to $1.02 billion by 2015. Growers are gravitating toward the products based upon demands from their buyers and also after learning how to sort out the various products on market and make effective use of them on the farm.
Grower acceptance is increasing, as Rick Melnick, Chairman of the Biological Products Industry Alliance, noted during the recent Biocontrols USA West 2017 Conference and Expo. “The ‘Wild West’ time for biopesticides is over,” he noted. “The products that didn’t work are gone.”
For growers looking to incorporate biocontrol products into their production programs, it is important to know where they fit in and how to apply them for maximum results. According Frank Sances, Founder and Owner of Pacific Ag Group, growers should start by conducting their own trials of products or relying on independent third-party evaluations.
“I would always look for third-party evidence of efficacy and suitability for your operation,” Sances says. “That is the only thing you can really depend on. That is not available all the time. When it is not, and you do have interest in the product, you are regulated to doing your own testing or hiring a consultant to conduct trials.
“If you do your own testing, do it blind, meaning you don’t know what side of the field your sprayers were in. Or if you pay a third-party to come in and scout, ideally you don’t let them know either what you did. You try to stack the evaluations in favor of the truth.”
Sances says biocontrol products are often highly biodegradable and very selective on the pests or the crop enhancements they offer, so trials are important to not only gauge efficacy, but also learn about the most effective application methods and timing of applications.
Finding a Fit
Duda Farm Fresh Foods has effectively blended biocontrol products into their production programs. Perry Yance, a Farm Manager for vegetables with Duda, says these products are not new to its operations.
“In our integrated pest management programs, we make use of all available labeled materials as needed based on pest pressure, which is monitored through our extensive field scouting,” he says. “With biofungicides and biostimulants, we take the approach of using materials that increase plant health and aid the plant in fighting off diseases and insects naturally. A couple of biostimulants have proven effective in our soils and climate and have been included in our nutrient program for several years. As for biological insect controls, a few of these have been in our program for many years as well, and they are usually at the beginning of the crop season as part of our maintenance program. High pest pressure, especially in a mature crop, invariably requires the use of more conventional materials in order to achieve pest control and deliver the high-quality product that our customers expect.”
Yance says the specific targeting of pests offered by biopesticides is desirable, too, because that generally means they are friendly to beneficial insects in fields. That in turn also means the products are safer for workers handling the materials or in the field.
Sances say growers should expect the biocontrol category to grow as conventional materials continue to be restricted and new technologies improve biocontrol performance. He adds growers should pay close attention to the biostimulant sector as new fertilizer-use efficacy, plant defense, and plant-health materials prove to be effective.