Fighting the world’s ‘number one crop pest’ naturally – it’s all about attention to detail
New biochemical control agents can play a key role in combatting rapidly growing vine weevil populations, which cause more than £40 million damage to UK horticultural industry, as resistance to traditional chemical pesticides increases.
“But the key to the success of these natural biopesticides is in attention to detail, “ Dr Minshad Ansari, of Swansea University spin-out business, Bionema, told delegates at the ‘Emergency vine weevil summit’ run by the Horticultural Trades Association at Banbury on 12 July 2016.
“We are developing ever more successful new products which use nematodes, fungi and other biological alternatives which can provide high levels of kill rates to these highly damaging pests,” said Dr Ansari. “But the key to the success of these exciting new alternatives is the need to recognise they are living organisms and have to be treated as such. They have to be looked after as part of Integrated Pest Management programmes”.
“Paying attention to the detail, ensuring they are kept properly and used correctly and pest control is as good, if not better than the dwindling number of potentially dangerous chemical alternatives,” said Dr Ansari, whose company runs specialised training courses to help technical managers, supervisors, agronomists, greenkeepers, foresters and IPM practitioners, make the most of biochemicals.
The company is also developing new bio-insecticide products which are already proving to increase kill rates of this pest in high value soft fruit crops such as strawberry and, working with strawberry growers, is carrying out full scale trials in England to assess just how effective they are in ‘real life’ – by comparing their cocktail of natural ‘ingredients’ with 14 other similar products.
The award-winning business’s latest research has already shown that mixtures of fungi, nematodes and other control agents, can increase the efficiency of natural products by up to 40 percent – and cut costs by 20 percent.
“Soft fruit and ornamental growers have been using these natural products to replace potentially harmful chemicals for some time. The problem is that in some cases they seem have to reduced effectiveness in comparison with the more traditional methods,” said Dr Ansari.
“Our new product is performing well and the first results of the trial are pointing to a big improvement in vine weevil control in strawberry, which means increased profits and longer term benefits,” said Dr Ansari. “Part of the key to the success is the way these living organisms are managed, something we stress in new training programmes we have developed for the best use of safe, residue free biochemicals”
Testing at its facility at Swansea University, the company has also found disturbing results following tests on commercial beneficial nematodes and insects, which attack and kill harmful pests. Results showed that of three different commercially available products tested, showed some where far more effective than others – and in one case more than a third of the nematodes in a 50 million pack were dead.
“This can be due to a variety of factors, poor quality stock initially, poor storage and transit, and an extended time frame between manufacture and application for all kinds of reasons,” said Dr Ansari. “That is why it is so important that we as an industry get this right, we need to ensure that biopesticides work effectively as the natural alternative to toxic chemical pesticides.”
“EU legislation and consumer led demand means growers have to reduce the use of chemical pesticides in crop production to grow fruits and vegetables with reduced detectable residues,” said Dr Ansari. “We must make sure that we deliver.”