Breeding beneficial bugs for biological controls at Bioforce
We hear a lot about biological control (pest control using biological agents like insects, mites and microbes to control pests) but where do you source the good bugs to fight the bad bugs? Bioforce is a long established biocontrol company breeding insects and importing other biocontrol agents for use across New Zealand.
Biocontrol bugs offer horticulturalists and gardeners a sustainable and environmentally friendly option for pest management. Biocontrol leaves no chemical residues, and pests cannot build up immunity to biocontrol agents as they can with chemical pesticides. As well, end products have no chemical residue and they’re safer for workers to work with.
Biological control does not aim to eradicate pests; rather it aims to maintain pest populations at levels low enough that any damage caused is insufficient to warrant chemical intervention. Effective biological control requires the use of beneficial organisms that are able to reach an ecological balance with the pest population at levels below economic thresholds. Director John Thompson set up Bioforce (alongside their sister company in Hawkes Bay Biobees.) At the time he was a chemist working in horticultural science and could see the need for a supplier of biocontrol agents.
Fast forward 20 years, and Bioforce is growing around ten different bugs for biological control and importing others for supply across New Zealand. They also source and onsell beneficial microbes for soil conditioning and fungal control.
Bioforce is about the sustainable management of crops – “it’s in everyone’s interest to reduce the quantity of chemical pesticides applied to horticultural crops; be that to reduce the production costs of the grower, to improve the health and working environment of horticultural workers, protect the natural environment, and to provide the consumer with the freshest, tastiest and healthiest produce and ornamental plants possible.”
Bioforce predominantly supplies market gardeners – especially those growing tomatoes, capsicum, cucumbers and strawberries in glasshouses.
They import a number of nematodes such as the Steinernema carpocapsae to control beetles, cutworms and other moths in soil and turf. Nematode production is an expensive microbiology process. The nematodes are grown in fermentation vats – the infrastructure being costly to set up. It has been more efficient for Bioforce to import and distribute from European companies with the infrastructure already in place.
Bioforce grows a variety of invertebrate predators and parasitoids. A parasitoid is an organism that has young that develop on or within another organism (the host), eventually killing it.
Bioforce grow a number of parasitoid invetebrates:
· Aphidius wasps – infect a variety of aphids
· Enforce™ Encarsia formosa – a small wasp that specializes in parasitizing greenhouse whitefly
Their straightforward predators, grown on site include:
· Ladybirds – these are generalists, they are primarily an aphid predator, however it will also predate on a large variety of alternative prey, including psyllid and whitefly eggs, mites, and the eggs of larger insects such as butterflies and moths.
- Hyper-Mite™ - a soil-dwelling predatory mite that feeds on fungus gnats (mycetophilids, sciarid flies), shore flies, the pupae of thrips and other insects, mites and nematodes
- Mite-A™ - a highly active predator of thrips, and will also eat a number of mite species
- Mite-E™ - predates on spider mites
- Orius bugs – These feed on thrips, aphids, whiteflies, mites, mealybugs, psyllids and the eggs of larger insects such as butterflies and moths.
Harvesting of the beneficial bugs then depends on the bug. For the parasitoid wasps, these are delivered as parasitized greenhouse whitefly nymphs on cardboard tags. So they wash the nymphs from the tobacco leaves, dry them and package in cardboard tags. The cardboard tags are then hung at intervals from the crop they are to protect. Numbers required depend on the size of the crop and the Bioforce site offers clear specifications
Bruno cautions that biocontrols have to be part of a broader plan – an Integrated Pest Management, or IPM plan in industry parlance.
The focus of an IPM plan is to put in place practices that present the lowest "risk" first, such as the exclusion of pests, sanitation methods, or the use of biological controls, while reserving the highest "risk" methods, such as broad-spectrum pesticides, for only those situations where there is no other option, such as when all of the many lower risk options have been exhausted or have ceased to be viable.
Many pesticides (insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) are toxic to beneficial organisms, including insect pollinators and biocontrol bugs.
Many factors influence the toxicity of pesticides to beneficial insects and mites so care is needed when integrating the use of chemicals and beneficial organisms in IPM programmes.
Bioforce work with their clients to assure the best outcomes and travel out to do onsite visits to look at issues being experienced by growers. John also works as a consultant for horticulturists and gardeners.
The company also runs ongoing research and development aimed at optimising and improving production of the species they’re rearing. Bioforce do not research organisms as possible biocontrols but wait until organisms are approved before they consider the import or growing of new species.
Bruno screens a lot of research from the scientific community to inform their practice, though he points out that they have to factor in that a lot is small-scale lab research. They also run trials to assess if their present bugs can aid pest control in different plants or crops.
The stringent regulatory framework for the introduction of new organisms into New Zealand does impact their work. An example was the unwelcome discovery of the tomato/potato psyllid in 2006. The psyllid does not yet have an effective biocontrol and many growers returned to chemical practices that saw a downturn in their use of biocontrols.
Plant and Food Research has permission to bring in a possible parasitoid to look at as a biocontrol for the tomato potato psyllid. Outcomes for this are a few years away but there are hopes this might become a new bug for Bioforce to add to their arsenal.