Using the power of nature
It’s enough to strike fear into the heart of anyone thinking about the future of food production: how will the ten billion people likely to populate the earth in 2050 have enough to eat? How will we achieve something close to a doubling of the current amount of fertile agricultural land, as we will need to if more and more people switch to a Western diet with its high levels of meat and dairy? How can we secure the production of healthy food in ways that are safe for both humans and the environment?
You only have to spend an hour on the internet to be overwhelmed by global issues: the vicious circle that arises from the use of large amounts of artificial fertilizer, which increases dependence on pesticides, which in turn causes resistance and damage of the environment and human health – while in fifty years’ time the world’s stocks of the most important component of artificial fertilizer, phosphate, will practically have run out. Deforestation, erosion, shortages of fresh water, overfishing, pollution of air and seawater and climate change: these are all factors that complicate matters even further.
According to the United Nations and the European Union, innovation in agriculture and horticulture is priority number one. The aim of innovation must be to safeguard and where possible increase production of healthy food per hectare, with minimal use of artificial fertilizer and chemical pesticides. Most scientists agree that this will be possible only if we cultivate crops according to the concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). It is a term that refers to the way in which growers cultivate and protect their crops based on a knowledge of cycles in and around plants, of equilibriums and relationships of dependence between plants, insects, micro-organisms and nutrients. Sustainable cultivation requires crops to be resistant to diseases and infestations, and the environment in which they are grown needs to have a capacity to repair itself. Only then can we reduce the use of artificial fertilizers, minimize reliance on pesticides and boost productivity.
However good the results of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) may be, it is only fair to say that worldwide, its deployment in agriculture is still in its infancy, and we are a long way from understanding everything that goes on in and around the crops we grow for food. Koppert is one of the driving forces behind IPM-inspired innovation in food production. By means of research and product development, and by sharing knowledge with farmers and growers all over the world through its network, the company is working to expand its array of resources and tools in order to minimize the use of artificial fertilizer and pesticides in food production.
What is Integrated Pest Management?
There are many definitions that explain what Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is. Most important is its aim: use biological control when you can, chemical control when you must. The toolbox that brings us there has many different instruments. This makes the work of the IPM consultant so versatile, interesting and sometimes complicated. The most important IPM tools are described below.
A healthy soil or substrate is the basis for a healthy crop. Think about soil or substrate health not only in the biological sense: minimal presence of soil borne pests or diseases. But also from the chemical point of view: well-balanced minerals in the soil matrix or nutrient solution. And not to forget the physical aspects: an porous structure of soil or substrate that allows gas exchange between the root zone and the air above.
Choice of variety
Crop varieties can differ significantly in their susceptibility to pests and diseases. And that goes beyond the resistances they have in their genetics. The difference in leaf tissue and plant sap composition between varieties also plays a role in the way pests or diseases develop.
This technique helps to provide each plant with the similar conditions, leading to a more uniform crop. This in turn avoids weak plants which are more vulnerable to pests and diseases.
This actually begins in the preceding culture: removing the old crop with its remaining pests and disease organisms remote from the growing area helps to reduce or delay infection in the new crop. Cleaning the greenhouse structure with all that is in it, is also important. Removing infested plants or plant parts from the start of the new crop limits sources infection.
Application of PGP products
Plant growth promoting microorganisms can be applied from the start of the cultivation. These enrich the microbial composition of the rhizosphere. The consortium of beneficial microbes induces systemic resistance and helps the plants to grow better. Seed coating is an efficient way to apply beneficial microorganisms in arable crops.
Monitoring and Application
Frequent and systematic scouting is crucial to IPM success. Early detection of pests and diseases leads to timely action when pest or diseases levels are low and actions most effective. Observing eyes, sticky traps, pheromone traps and magnifying glasses are indispensable tools for scouting and monitoring. Modern techniques with special cameras on drones provide new and interesting options for scouting. Proper scouting also provides data that help to quantify the development of pests and natural enemies. All scouting efforts generate lots of data. Precision Farming turns these data into useful information to manage, evaluate and continuously improve IPM systems. Koppert provides hardware and software tools that facilitate scouting and Precision Farming.
Drones can be prepared to distribute natural enemies with minimal labor requirement. When combined with relevant scouting data from the Precision farming system it will soon be possible to adjust the application rate on the local infection level. Biological control with natural enemies is a numbers game, so this technique will help to get best profit from the investment in natural enemies.
Economic thresholds for treatment
Pests or diseases can be present in a crop without causing economic damage. Obviously the threshold level varies per crop and pest or disease combination. Knowledge of these thresholds and dynamics of pests and natural enemies helps to avoid unnecessary (chemical) interventions.
Preventive releases of natural enemies
Natural enemies must be introduced early in the development of the pest population to be most effective. In some cases release of natural enemies even before the pest is present is possible, or required for optimal efficacy. Some beneficial mites can feed on pollen or food mites; some beneficial bugs on special food based on moth eggs. Some parasitoids can be reared on banker plants in the greenhouse.
Augmentative releases of beneficial insects/mites
When preventive releases are not possible or feasible, the scouting data help steer the timing and rates for the introduction of natural enemies.
Natural enemies are not commercially available for all pests. And in some cases natural enemies need help. Mass trapping techniques like Rollertraps or Horiver (1000/ha) contribute to control of the flying stages of pests like whitefly and thrips. For some other pests pheromone traps can make mass trapping more effective.
Using plant nutrition for better plant health
Plant sap analysis data have revealed clear relationships between leaf nutrient composition and susceptibility to pests or diseases. Managing the nutritional status of plants is becoming an important tool in managing plant health. For instance, lower nitrate levels in plant sap slow down the development of spider mites, white fly and other pests without compromising production or quality. And there are many more examples.
Matching IPM and crop management
Knowing the crop cycle and crop management is essential for best integration of the IPM program and the crop. The de-leafing strategy in tomatoes can make a difference in how populations of whitefly parasitoids and Macrolophus develop. Application of predatory mites against thrips in potted plants is more effective when done before spacing the plants. Plants grown in cold circumstances require beneficials that work well in such conditions.
The program ‘Next Generation Growing’ has caused a paradigm shift in crop and climate management in high tech greenhouses. It demonstrates how proper management of water-, energy- and assimilates balance contributes to a healthy crop less vulnerable to pests and diseases.
There are three categories of biopesticides.
Microbial pesticides are based on bacteria, fungi, oomycetes or viruses and can be used for the biological control of pests and diseases. Examples are: Trianum (Trichoderma harzianum), Mycotal (Lecanicillium muscarium) and Bacillus thuringiensis.
Biochemicals are based on plant extracts or metabolites (neem, plant oils).
Sex pheromones are the best known example of semiochemicals.
Biopesticides provide a wide range of tools for non-chemical pest and disease control. Use is only possible when the product is registered in the country of application. Biopesticides are generally compatible with natural enemies, but there are exceptions. Check the Koppert side effects database or app for specific information.
When the non-chemical tools are not fully capable to keep pest or disease levels below the economic threshold, there are often possibilities to use chemical pesticides with minimal impact on natural enemies or microbial pesticides. Check the Koppert side effects database website or app for specific information, and verify with the client whether the pesticide chosen does not interfere with the market requirements.