Bioforce Product Manager Chris Thompson and Research and Development Manager Bruno Gatimel outline the products supplied by Bioforce and some of the methods for growing biocontrol agents for the horticulture industry.
The Science Learning Hub thanks Showdown Productions, the producers of Rural Delivery, for assistance in writing this resource and the use of the video clip. Rural Delivery is a television programme that looks at excellence and innovation within the primary industries in New Zealand.
20 years ago, Chris Thompson’s father saw a need to move away from a reliance on pesticides in food production. He began a business called Bioforce, breeding beneficial insects to act as biocontrol agents. Today, Chris is a Product Manager at Bioforce, supplying good bugs to glasshouse growers producing mainly tomatoes, capsicums and cucumbers.
A lot of growers are trying to go chemical free – there’s a lot of motivation to do that – so by introducing our insects into their glasshouse, they can get long-term sustainable pest protection. That way, they don’t need to spray.
The science around this is very well understood. The insects have their particular flavours they like to eat. The Encarsia eat whitefly. Our Mite-A™ and Mite-E™ go after the spider mites. So it basically comes down to how big your pest pressures are or how big your crop is and what time of the year, and we can tell you what to put on there and how much.
We breed eight different types of beneficial insects on our premises here in Karaka. Each of them has their own different part of the food chain – that part of the whole pest management system that they look after.
We get a lot of new enquiries where people have found insects on their crop. They can take a picture or try and describe it to us over the phone, and we’ll let them know what it is.
It’s not always a bad bug. Often a good bug from New Zealand has actually found its way on there, and it could be the reason you don’t have so many pest problems because he’s cleaning them all up.
In this room, we are rearing whiteflies for the Encarsia formosa production. We have to produce some whitefly because whiteflies are the host organism for the tiny wasp Encarsia formosa.
The host plant has to be a suitable plant for both the pest and the biocontrol agent. Tobacco plant is really stable and whitefly just love it, and at the same time, we can get a lot of benefit from these very large leaves. In this way, we can get a very high amount of whiteflies larvae, and the idea is to mass rear Encarsia formosa, so we have to produce a lot of whiteflies.
Under a leaf, we have hundreds of whiteflies. They are laying eggs at the moment, and these eggs will become larvae, and within these larvae, the Encarsia formosa will lay an egg – one egg per larvae.
Here we have introduced the parasitoid, the wasp Encarsia formosa, and we can see that the parasitised whitefly larvae are turning black at the moment. So we can easily make the difference between the black ones, which are parasitised whitefly larvae, and the yellow-white ones, which are unparasitised.
The black ones will hatch, and the Encarsia formosa will hatch and fly away, and we’ll be able to parasitise about 50 whiteflies larvae.
So the next step from here is to remove carefully these Encarsia larvae from the leaf. After that, we will clean it and finally we will pack it – fixing them on cardboard tags, which are actually the final product and the product which is delivered to growers.
There’s another way to rear beneficial insects. We rear them in these boxes, and we can supply growers with either young or adult individuals. This way to rear them can be more expensive because we have to feed them with some expensive diet most of the time.
This is the packaging we supply growers with Encarsia, and at the moment as part of our quality control system, I am checking the emergence rate to know if we have the right number per tag.
In this video, we can see Encarsia formosa looking for a suitable host – a suitable whitefly larvae. At the moment, the Encarsia is laying its egg into the larvae, and this larvae will turn black – you can see that this larvae is parasitised. After that, a new adult is emerging from this larvae.
There’s a growing number of pests washing up on our shores each year, it’s quite a concern for us. There was the potato psyllid around about 2 years ago that knocked the country for 6. Some of the growers here – it’s not well understood that they would grow the entire nation’s capacity of say cucumbers or capsicums. That is only for export, so when they’re not allowed to export, that becomes a flood of produce onto our market.
So we are a little bit worried about, when new pests do arrive, how quickly can we react. We’re trying to find more native insects in New Zealand, there is a lot around. The difficulties are they may not like being on commercial crops. They might prefer to be on ferns and other native plants.
We are trying to work more and more with the outdoor growers. Traditionally, outdoor growing is a little bit more difficult because you don’t have as much control – you can’t govern the temperature and humidity – and also a lot of these insects have got legs and wings so they can move, so you might put them on your field but they walk on over to your neighbours.
We’d like to see the market change a little bit more to reflect the effort a lot of growers have put in to become organic. I mean other than shopping at your organic supermarkets, you’re guaranteed organics. If you’re a normal fruit or vege shop, there’s a very good chance a lot of our customers’ produce has wound up there, and it could be as close as you could ever get to organic but you’re not going to know.
Video clip courtesy of Showdown Productions.