Michigan greenhouse growers learn about greenhouse biological controls

Greenhouse growers not able to attend the recent Ontario trip can learn about insect management using biological controls from a new publication and by attending the Michigan Greenhouse Growers Expo on Dec. 9, 2015.

Gerbera daisy grown with banker plant and sticky cards, all part of a biocontrol program. Photo by Heidi Wollaeger, MSU Extension

Gerbera daisy grown with banker plant and sticky cards, all part of a biocontrol program. Photo by Heidi Wollaeger, MSU Extension

A group of 32 Michigan greenhouse producers took part in a three-day, Michigan State University Extension-sponsored bus trip to Ontario, Canada, to see firsthand how growers utilized biological controls for insect management on floricultural crops. MSU Extension educator Heidi Wollaeger and I, along with MSU entomologist David Smitley, led the tour with the intent to increase grower’s knowledge and stimulate more adoption of biocontrol.

Attendees visited five greenhouses that have been using beneficial insects as their major pest control method for between seven and 12 years or more. All Canadian growers using biological control methods reported that biological control is a moving target, that their program is always changing and there is no “magic” recipe.

Implementing a biocontrol program involves a change in mindset by creating an ecosystem in the greenhouse that acts as a barrier to pests, as compared to a pesticide spray program that kills the pest insects once they are a problem. All growers reported that scouting is a critical aspect to a successful program.

A stop at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre allowed growers to see some research being conducted on biocontrols. Rose Buitenhuis, a researcher on biological control, shared a new publication titled, “Grower Guide: Quality Assurance of Biocontrol Products.” The purpose of this publication is to provide greenhouse growers with some simple techniques they can use to determine the quality of the biocontrol products they purchase once they arrive at their location.

Since biocontrol agents are living organisms, they are subject to variability due to uncontrolled packaging, shipping, transport and storage conditions. If you are currently using biocontrols, I strongly urge you to download a copy of “Grower Guide: Quality Assurance of Biocontrol Products” as it contains specific quality control checking protocols for 22 different species of insects or mites that are commonly used in greenhouse biocontrol programs.

Greenhouse growers who want to learn more about biocontrols should consider attending the Michigan Greenhouse Growers Expo on Dec. 9, 2015, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two programs will discuss biological control topics. Ray Cloyd from Kansas State University will speak on, “Are Using Good Bugs a Cost-Effective Strategy for Controlling Insect Pests of Spring Crops?” Another program will feature a panel of Michigan growers who are currently using biological controls and will share their experiences in a presentation titled, “Grower Experiences with Insect Biocontrol for Spring Crops”. You can register online for the Michigan Greenhouse Growers Expo.

For more information on biological controls in greenhouse crops, contact your MSU Floriculture Extension educator.

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