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How can biocontrol agents seek out their pests?

Theme: Basics of biocontrol

Predatory insect (ladybug larva) eating an aphid
The predatory ladybird larva insect, that seeks out pests, eating an aphid © CABI

A grower with an infested crop will likely opt for a product that can control the pest and is cost-effective. Many chemical pesticides will effectively control pests; however, they will not do this in a cost-effective way. When applied, for example, a significant amount of the chemical pesticides often does not reach the target pest. Even when used correctly, pesticides cause this occurrence, leading to the loss of a portion of the product and wasting resources and money. So, how can you effectively control your pest while reducing waste? Biocontrol agents could provide the answer.

Chemical pesticides do not always reach the pest

Most pesticides are effective against pests when they are in direct contact. But, pests can hide in places where it is harder to apply pesticides. Then, growers must wait for the pest to come in contact with the chemicals. While applying, pesticides can drift away from the sprayed site, ending up far from their intended target.

In fact, one paper stated that less than 0.1% of pesticides applied for pest control reach their target pests. So, the portion of pesticides not reaching the target is not only wasted, but it also ends up in the environment. Given the toxicity of certain chemicals, this could harm biodiversity and human health.

This vast amount of chemical pesticide waste could be avoided by correctly using biocontrol options to seek out “hidden” pests.

Are biocontrol agents a safer alternative to pesticides?

Biocontrol agents known as macrobials offer an alternative to chemical pesticides.. Macrobials, such as insects, mites, and beneficial nematodes, can actively move around to locate pests.

Unlike chemical pesticides, farmers do not have to hope for the pest to come in contact with the product; macrobials are natural predators and will search for pests themselves. This means there is less wastage of the products and little to no damage to the environment.

Even if pests are “hiding”, macrobials can still discover them. Nematodes, for instance, can be mixed into the soil by growers. These tiny worms search for and prey on slugs. The nematodes will find the slug.

Similarly, beneficial mites will find and control pests that lurk under leaves. They also move around throughout the day, meaning the grower does not need to be there constantly to manage the pests.

Using these biocontrol agents, also called bioprotectants, can help reduce wastage. This is beneficial for growers but also better for biodiversity and people’s health. Switching to bioprotectants contributes to fewer harmful chemicals being lost in the environment.

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