Top 10 tips to achieve a successful biological pest control programme

If you are considering introducing biological pest control agents or want to improve the performance of programmes you have in place, these top tips will provide the necessary guidance.

Understand the pests associated with the crops being grown

Consider when and where pests are found in crops.

  • A history of pest populations on site is a useful guide to potential future issues.
  • Basic identification of pests is useful, not necessarily to species level, but identification ensures the most appropriate biological control agents can be selected.
  • Note the time of year (weeks or months) when the pests are most active.

Understand the biological pest control agents being introduced

Get to know the needs of the agents being used.

  • Note which crops are affected, control agents work better on different plant species, sometimes species with hairy leaves or those that produce aromatic leaf oils may dissuade them.
  • Flying control agents must be released reasonably close to the plants.
  • Walking agents must be in contact with the plants, and the plants must be in contact with each other for the agents to move around the crop.

Where possible encourage beneficial insects into the crops from the locality

Make the most of free control.

  • Understand which insects are beneficial and which are potential pests.
  • Adjust spray programmes on the nursery generally to assist in the build-up of beneficial insects.
  • Maintain areas of native plants around the nursery to help beneficial insects thrive.

Talk to others

Gain from the experience of other people and communicate with staff.

  • Discuss your plans with others including technical advisors, consultants, researchers and other growers who have been using biological pest control regularly.
  • Talk to members of staff and encourage their feedback, the more they understand the better the programme will work.
  • Allocate responsibility for managing programmes to key staff members.

Ensure the growing conditions are appropriate for the control agents being introduced

The initial success of any programme is often governed by prevailing temperatures.

  • If production occurs in a greenhouse, is it heated through the winter or ambient, and what are the venting temperatures?
  • Which heating system will be used and where is it in relation to the crop?
  • Will the crop be floor grown, bench grown, will irrigation be supplied from beneath or overhead, what is the crop architecture etc.?

Get a hand lens

Being able to see small insects and mites is essential.

  • An 8 to 10 X hand lens is adequate, higher magnifications tend to have a smaller field of vision.
  • Loupe type lenses are frequently the easiest to obtain; cheap plastic lenses can easily scratch while glass lenses in a metal body are heavier but should last longer.
  • Linen tester lenses are compact and fold out to a pre-focused hand lens, these are easiest to take simple photos with, alternatively use a digital microscope.

Think about pesticide selection and use

Not all pesticides are compatible with biological pest control programmes.

  • Ascertain which pesticides have been used on bought-in plant material; some active ingredients can remain harmful to control agents for several months after their last use.
  • Compatible treatments such as physical acting, short persistence products may be useful, particularly in the first year or so of using biological control.
  • A ‘clean-up’ spray of an appropriate product can be useful at the end of the production season to help ensure a clean start the following one.

Know when and how to act

Have an understanding of what is going on within the crops.

  • Regularly scout the crops for signs of pest infestation and the establishment of control agents and make the most of sticky traps and other aids.
  • Select control agents to match the pest population; some agents are active seekers, others prefer slightly higher pest populations.
  • Note areas where pests out number control agents or beneficial insects and consider a selective or short persistence treatment to realign numbers.

Keep records

An understanding of the performance of previous programmes can be a useful guide to improvement.

  • Keep records of trap counts or pest incidences.
  • Keep agreed introduction programmes from year to year to act as a useful reference point.
  • Keep other records too, such as weather/temperatures and spray applications (the latter being a legal requirement).

Maintain technical training and ensure access to various sources of information

Keeping up to date with developments is important.

  • Make use of the technical expertise from the biological control suppliers and arrange an on-site meeting.
  • Bring together reference material on pest and control agent identification, and put up posters etc. to inform staff members.
  • Attend training events on a regular basis to update key staff members on the latest developments with biological pest control and integrated pest management more generally.