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Biological pest control becomes an economic reality

EUREKA project E! 2971 ALTREARMETHODS has developed methods of producing natural predator insect pests which can offer businesses a much more economic and reliable production than before. This major advance will enable more widespread use of biological pest control – promoting an organic alternative for the consumer and having financial impact on agriculture in Europe.

Biological pest control has much promise as an alternative to chemical pesticides. However, supplying natural predators of key insect pests is difficult and more expensive than pesticides. The problem lies in the availability of food material and a suitable environment for the predatory bugs to reproduce.

The ALTREARMETHODS project has developed new materials and techniques which can make it much easier and cheaper to produce key insect pest predators that can be adapted for the specific needs of many more. These developments are of particular interest to European agriculturists. “This means more effective, more economic control of many insect pests of major agricultural products,” says product coordinator Dr Shimon Steinberg of the specialist biological control company, Bio-Bee Sde Eliyahu in Israel. A northern and southern European collaboration, Koppert from the Netherlands contributed its experience of northern European insect pests and its knowledge of technologies for coating nutrient and other liquids.

New encapsulation technology

Project partners used new encapsulation technology to prepare an artificial liquid diet in the form of coated droplets, developing an effective diet for two major predatory bugs; Orius, which attacks mainly thrips and Macrolophus, a major predator of whitefly, thrips, leaf miners and mites. This will be a clear alternative to the costly flour-moth eggs used as food to date. The project has also developed coated gel substrates which form a suitable base for these insects to lay their eggs. Used as a substitute for the bean pods or tobacco plants which are the bugs’ natural choice, the gel substrates avoid the problems of drying out or fungal decay; both of which make these materials rather unreliable.

The bugs chosen to test the encapsulated foods and gel substrates are key predators of insects and mites which destroy major agricultural crops. Dr Steinberg sees immediate potential for market growth for Orius and Macrolophus and other predators in the Mediterranean region. This is particularly true for Spain and Italy where biological control is already used in 75,000 hectares of glasshouses, plastic houses, tunnels and multi-span houses growing fruit and vegetables.

Participating in the EUREKA Initiative has given an added-value to the project and enabled the Israeli and Dutch scientists to develop novel, cost-effective techniques. Working together also gave them the freedom to exchange expertise, knowledge and intellectual property in a way which would have otherwise been impossible. Moreover, the methodologies they have tested can now be extended and adapted to other natural enemies of insect pests.

Catherine Shiels | alfa
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