The Transition to Biocontrol and IPM: Part III

The Four “P”s

It’s sometimes helpful to have a mnemonic device to help you out, to present you with a direction. So here’s one for you, as noted, we have Planning, Prevention, Patience, and Perseverance — and they are in order. All have an equal share in importance; their order defines which is likely to be encountered or needed first.

Planning

The preceding pages in this section have hopefully done a fairly good job of illuminating the need for planning before you start. It would be no different if you were planning to start a horticultural or agricultural business and planned on using chemical pesticides as your sole means of pest control. Your best results will be had if you do a little research, identify beforehand problems which may be encountered and, well, have your proverbial ducks in a row. I know this often goes against the grain of human nature: we very often refer to the instruction book only when we discover pieces for the bicycle we got Billy for his birthday are left over; or when the computer just won’t work as it’s supposed to (and we often wait on hold for hours hoping 1-800 Tech Support will bail us out of our jam after only briefly leafing through the computer’s owner’s manual looking for a sometimes very obvious answer). Yet, we get by. We have for years, and will probably continue to do so for many generations. The point isn’t in the project’s doability, it’s in the concept of making the whole thing easier and cheaper — oops, I mean less expensive. I do have to emphasize cheaper, though. Many growers pride themselves on their quality — it can bring in more greenbacks in exchange for the greenery which is sold. And I also have to emphasize less expensive, they are two different things, I guess. If the project’s less expensive you’ll be more profitable. To business, profitability is key. It’s a matter of survival.

Prevention

When I wrote about mind-set previously on this website I used the example of a customer telling a grower his or her plants were infested with little green bugs. That was supposed to reveal the difference between a person who did not employ the powers of observation and a person who actually knew what was going on with his or her plants. The latter is more desirable if biocontrol and IPM is in your future (and even if it’s not). Prevention does need a person with the proper mind-set, but it actually goes a little further than that. A conventional grower can have the right mind-set for the Green Methods, yet not be practicing them. He or she can use their chemicals responsibly and rationally and in good form as a smart grower would. They will target-spray minor infestations as needed and as prescribed on the label of the product(s) they are using. They will also be knowledgeable about their crops and the pests they’re encountering. But most chemicals shouldn’t be used preventively. In fact, some conventional growers which use pesticides on a regular preventive program are actually being irresponsible in their efforts. Most pesticides don’t prevent pests, they kill them.

With biocontrol and IPM, prevention is your ticket to success — especially if you have a budget. Call your biocontrol/IPM supplier as soon as you plant, even beforehand. I know you probably won’t have pests at that time, but that’s the whole point. With biocontrols and the whole mentality of IPM and the Green Methods, you can’t wait until the last minute. In fact, it’s best to act in the first minute. Biocontrol agents, unlike chemical pesticides, will look for trouble. They’ll scour your crops. To them trouble is a good thing, at least when it’s our definition of trouble: pests. To the good bugs, your pests mean a future, one with food, security and general well-being for their offspring. And if they can’t find trouble right there in your plants, they’ll go outward and beyond hoping to score. If pests are not in your crop, but on its periphery, they’ll go to them. Systemic chemicals can move through a plant; biocontrol agents can move through a field — let them. If they can’t locate pests it means they’re not there to find. Good bugs will die trying to be good bugs, literally.

Patience

When pests are found by you, the grower, for whatever reason (maybe you couldn’t use a preventive agent or just didn’t know), you should act quickly. Order the right controls right now! But don’t, however, expect your biocontrols to act quickly. They usually don’t. They have to acclimate to their new surroundings, locate their food or their hosts and then act. Especially when dealing with parasitoids-versus predators, which eat the pests-as they often have to mate first, then lay eggs in the pests before results can be expected (which is why parasitoids are typically used preventively while predators are often used curatively-though not always). Patience is required. No more instant gratification of watching pests keeling over and dying as the poison touches them. Though sometimes some of the predatory insects will perform for you by eating some pests upon release. Sometimes.

Another area where patience has a role is in the general concept of learning the Green Methods. Remember the learning curve I told you about? Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t get it all down pat in the first year. Especially if you’re not a neophyte to growing, where unlearning is also a necessary part of the process. Remember this: many, many growers have told me, after their initial struggles (of one or two years), that the Green Methods, employing the measures of biocontrol and integrated pest management, “have been some of the most rewarding experiences they’ve earned.” They tell how “the bugs work better than anything they’ve tried before,” and how they are “actually saving money.” I don’t believe the main thrust of biocontrol is perpetuating sustainability or saving money — though those things always looks good on paper — but it does pay. It pays, over time (after the struggles pass), monetarily, and in many other ways. Some ways may be intangible, while some ways are more tangible, more real, more today. Others may save lives. Just be patient. How’s that saying go? Good things come to those who wait. And please excuse me if I’m, again, beginning to wax philosophical.

Perseverance

Hand in hand with patience is perseverance. In other words: don’t get ticked off and frustrated if success doesn’t jump you in the street and cover you with kisses, just shrug off the lumps the best you can, believe and persevere. Keep going. Patience is a short-term thing; perseverance is more of a long-term thing.