Biological pest control basics

The wide variety of natural products now available is enough to confuse any farmer. Here are some tips to help you make an informed decision.

crop-pest-milkweed-bug

The increased demand for biological pest control products is due largely to problems experienced with chemical pesticides. These include pest resurgence, resistance, environmental pollution and risk to human health.

Biological control aims to reduce plant pathogens and limit pests such as insects, parasitic nematodes and weeds.In its narrowest sense, biocontrol suppresses pest organisms by using other organisms.

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However, the interrelationship between many environmental variables can result in interactions between organisms and their environment, many of which contribute to effective biological control.

The introduction of biological control products and inoculants into South Africa has increased rapidly since the early 1990s. Products may be single ingredients or a combination of several ingredients.

Some ingredients are recognised by scientific and farming communities as able to improve crop yield and quality. The value of others is often unknown and must first be evaluated for their ability to perform as the manufacturer claims.

Choosing the right product

  • Identify the exact disease problems on your farm. Biological products can be highly specific.
  • Find out if the product you intend using is registered in terms of Act 36 of 1947. This means that it has been properly tested.
  • Find a label on the package such as shelf life, application rate, active organisms or compatibility with other biological control products that contains specific information on the product. This is further proof that the product has been scientifically tested.
  • Establish the pH and temperature range in which the biological agent is active. This will help you to store it correctly and apply it effectively.
  • Find out if the biological control product is compatible with the chemicals you apply during a growing season. Agrochemicals can deactivate or kill living organisms in biological products.

Questions to ask

  1. Does the company selling the biological control product provide a professional consulting service to establish an integrated pest management control programme before selling it? This should include a thorough investigation of the disease problem on the farm and current crop management practices.
  2. Does the company provide detailed instructions on handling and applying biological control products?
  3. Is the quality and purity of the biological control product specified? For example, does the company indicate which organisms the product contains and who determined the species? It should be a recognised taxonomic expert, not necessarily someone at the company.
  4. Does the company offer a reasonable solution in case of problems encountered and does it follow up and establish the success or failure of the programme?
  5. Finally, rather than jumping right in and using the product on your entire farm, first test it to see whether it yields results in your production environment.

Source: Agricultural Research Council.