Time to take off those rose-coloured spectacles – the future is Green. Let’s be positive about this, embrace the benefits and prepare for the challenges in time to benefit.
The reduction of chemical pesticides in flower growing may have seemed an irrelevant issue two decades ago, but things have moved on as inevitably as the earth keeps spinning. It is already being done in some parts of the world and it is not ‘just another research programme’. Best advice would be to make plans to ride this wave and enjoy the exhilaration of real growing. Providing they can be protected from the ravages of pests and disease, plants grow better without the assault on their biochemistry from chemical cocktails. That’s a fact.
In 2019, why not make plans to visit growers who have already made the shift to low pesticide flower production by using bio-pesticides and learn about how they overcome the issues. Perhaps consider sending staff for an apprenticeship programme, if you can organise this. European retailers are already very excited about these achievements and are supporting industries that have the necessary local bio-pesticide registrations to implement this type of programme. For some years now, European retailers have funded practical training programmes and on-farm demonstration trials to encourage wider adoption of low pesticide flower growing in these countries.
Zero risk pest resistance
Don’t let this prospect fill you with gloom. It is not as difficult as you think – if your country has the necessary bio-pesticide registrations and they are not marketed with a premium price tag. The use of bio-pesticides is compatible with the use of many chemical pesticides, and most can even be tank-mixed with chemical pesticides. Surprisingly, there is often not much of a harmful effect from bio-pesticides on the natural enemies of pests and local natural enemy populations can even migrate into the crop. Currently there is believed to be zero risk of pest resistance to bio-pesticides, zero toxic residues and reduced human health issues. Programmes need to be prophylactic, preventative programmes because bio-pesticides are not quick ‘knock down’ tools like chemicals. In high risk situations they can be used in conjunction with appropriate pesticides, including fungicides. Ask your biocontrol suppliers what training they offer on this.
Meet the growers
The widespread use of microbiological bio-pesticides in Kenya in roses has enabled their industry to make significant chemical pesticide reductions. Meeting these growers might inspire you to lobby governments and regulators to accelerate the introduction of bio-pesticide alternatives. It would be wise to do this before pressure from retailers force the change when you do not have all the tools needed. Consumers, governments and retailers are adamant about providing alternatives and encouraging the adoption of low pesticide crop protection programmes in ornamentals and cut-flowers – in spite of the fact that they are usually not consumed. The widespread retailer-driven ban on the use of neonicotinoids in bedding plants, even for propagators, is a good example of the growing international concern about the negative impact of chemical pesticides on the environment and non-target life.
However, the pace of registration of bio-pesticides can be slowed by inadequately resourced and experienced Regulators – unable or unwilling to make decisions quickly enough. The IBMA (www.ibma-global.org), International Bio-control Manufacturers Association, have produced a White Paper designed to overcome this problem through a centralised European Registration system with participation from Member States. They need your support to empower their efforts to lobby governments.
Practical experience is needed
Beware of consultants who do not have the practical experience needed to manage these types of programmes because they spend the majority of their time in countries where bio-pesticides are not widely registered or used. One of the big issues about empowering flower farmers globally for the future is that many of the universities and colleges are behind the wave when it comes to up-to-date practical knowledge and skills needed to manage bio-pesticide intensive programmes in ornamentals. There are no practical qualifications in real bio-intensive IPM (Integrated Pest Management), so it is difficult to identify the more useful consultants or employees to add to your team. Whilst there are legally binding descriptors and regulations about what constitutes and ‘organic’ production unit – there is currently no equivalent regulations about what a grower must do to ‘label’ their produce as ‘IPM’ produce.
There are murmurs in the corridors about a new certification for ‘pesticide free’ produce that has no chemical residues but is not ‘organic’. If this comes to fruition it will probably be implemented more widely on edible produce but it would be unwise to hope that ornamentals will avoid the gaze of retailers once this has happened. The stinging effect of consumer and environmental groups’ attacks on the Valentine trade with ‘revelations’ about chemical pesticides on roses given to loved ones, is something retailers would prefer not to have to deal with. Retailers have developed pesticide Active Lists which restrict the types of chemicals that growers are allowed to use. Products like abamectin, acephate, chlorothalonil, deltamethrin, imidacloprid, lufenuron and thiophanate-methyl are on their Red List, because of concerns of safety for the environment and human beings. Retailers are being urged by customers and pressure groups to regularly test flowers and publicize the pesticide residues found, especially just before Valentine’s Day. So, what can a grower do to protect these delicate blooms whilst reducing the use of chemical pesticides?
US$6.2 billion market by 2024
Increased use of biological controls in ornamentals seems inevitable. All the biocontrol companies are seeing a global expansion in the sales of macro-biologicals, such as predatory mites, parasitic wasps and other predators. But it is the micro-biologicals (bio-pesticides) which have attracted the most interest. Bio-pesticides are naturally occurring fungi, bacteria and botanical extracts that have been mass produced and registered for use a similar way to chemical pesticides. They are less harmful to non-targets and are not persistent on the environment so they have undeniable environmental benefits over chemical pesticides.
Biocontrol giants are jostling to acquire EU registrations and production facilities to ensure that they can offer these to their customers as robust, affordable alternatives to the conventional chemical pesticides. The global market for bio-pesticides is forecast to reach US$6.2 billion by 2024. Bio-pesticide production represents a lower carbon foot-print than chemical pesticide production and supports a move towards smart climate change agriculture! Be green – be hi-viz green.
The spores of Trichoderma asperellum that are used as a biopesticide to control soil diseases and root knot nematodes.