Biocontrols win pest wars
Nurseries use beneficial bugs to prey on bad bugs
By MITCH LIES
WOODBURN, Ore. -- Oregon nursery growers are discovering benefits in bugs -- good ones, that is.
Ron Tuckett, a plant protection manager at Monrovia, said the Dayton, Ore., nursery is saving between 30 and 70 percent in its mite control program since it started releasing thousands of beneficial bugs in its greenhouses.
"It has contributed to a major reduction in chemical usage," Tuckett said.
"But," Tuckett said, "the biggest thing is the quality component. It's not all just about the costs. It's about the quality of the crop. We're seeing a big improvement in quality."
At Woodburn Nursery and Azaleas, the production crew hasn't added up the economics behind beneficial insects. But Ron Schmidt, production manager at the nursery, said: "We're convinced that economics-wise, it will be a benefit."
And Shane Young, ornamentals production manager at the nursery, said two years into the program he started noticing "the plant quality never looked so good."
The Woodburn and Dayton nurseries are among hundreds of nurseries that use good bugs to keep the bad bugs down. Some nurseries look to control just one pest with beneficial predators, said John Maurer of Evergreen Growers Supply, a distributor of beneficial insects. Others will buy six to eight predators and use them to control a variety of pests on a variety of crops.
The distributor buys the good bugs from a variety of producers, Maurer said, including sources in Canada, California and England.
The bugs are produced in greenhouses, refrigerated shipping containers and other facilities, he said. Bug producers capture and package the bugs in a variety of fashions.
Use of biocontrols, or predator bugs, has grown steadily since the mid-1990s, when Maurer started distributing the bugs.
Maurer estimates his sales have increased about 20 percent a year over the past decade. He sells to several types of farm operations, and extensively to nurseries. He distributes to farms across the U.S., but primarily to Northwest operations, he said.
He believes business is now set to boom, as word of the program's benefits spreads.
"I'm hoping for a 50 percent growth in sales next year," he said.
Growers use the program to control aphids, whiteflies, fungus gnats, mites, thrips and other pests, Maurer said.
Some crops are more conducive to beneficial insects, Tuckett said. And some pests are more easily controlled with beneficials than others.
Woodburn Nursery and Azalea started working with beneficial insects four years ago, primarily to control aphids.
The nursery now relies almost exclusively on beneficial insects to control aphids on certain crops, resorting to pesticide treatments only in emergencies, Young said.
Young said he now is comfortable using beneficial insects. But it didn't start that way.
"The tough part is believing that it actually works," Young said.
Learning how to use beneficial insects didn't come easily, Young said.
"The more time you have into it, the more questions you have, and the better you can get at your practice," he said.
"It's a long learning curve," Oregon State University Extension entomologist Robin Rosetta said.
"This is an area within pest management where the more knowledge you have, the more successful you can be. But people can have success right away," Rosetta said.
Woodburn Nursery has found biocontrols work best in greenhouses. On outdoor nursery operations, winds tend to disperse the beneficial insects before they can do their good deeds, Young said.
The nursery also has found it crucial to release the good bugs before insect pest numbers build.
"You need to be very proactive," Schmidt said. "You need to be preventative."