Erik van der Sluys and Cody Seals, Beneficial Insectary

Walking cannabis growers through the process of implementing beneficial organisms

“Two of the more consistent pests that growers deal with are spider mites and cannabis aphid. Depending on the severity of the pest, our IPM Specialists will help walk you through the process of proper predator selection,” said Erik van der Sluys (IPM Specialist) and Cody Seals (U.S. Product Manager) of Beneficial Insectary. The company has been a contributor to the natural biocontrol products industry for over 30 years. “We help growers with figuring out the pests that need to be prevented, finding applicable predators for a grower’s specific climate conditions, and then applying an effective rate.”

Erik van der Sluys and Cody Seals at Cultivate 2022 in Columbus, Ohio  

The benefits of beneficial organisms
According to Erik and Cody, the main benefit of implementing beneficial organisms into a program is the overall reduction of exposure to chemical pesticides to the crop, the technicians, and the customer. “I would rather have my IPM team putting out bugs than suiting up and spraying a chemical,” Erik says. “Moreover, the restrictions for re-entry periods do not apply to beneficial organisms, so production crews can get right back to work after an application. IPM Managers often have to coordinate sprays with many facets of production, where they only need to coordinate with irrigation managers for beneficial releases.”

“Also, beneficial organisms do not have the same residues associated with a chemical application, and there is no problem with resistance building up in your pest population. Many chemistries, even organic ones, can become less effective if overused, wasting your time and money to not even dent the pest.” Erik explains that most of these organisms are coming on a carrier that is easily distributed by hand throughout a crop without the requirement of PPE. “The use of these organisms requires you to think intuitively with the crop and pest, releasing predators and parasitoids where pests are more prevalent.”

Helping cannabis growers
For cannabis growers, two of the more consistent pests are spider mites and cannabis aphid. So what would Erik and Cody advise against those? “For spider mite prevention, we have Amblyseius californicus and Pytoseiulus persimilis which can help deter the pest populations from overwhelming growers. Persimilis is a bit more specialized and can be used when spider mites have been detected, whereas californicus is a generalist that is great for use before the pest has even been detected in the crop.” Cannabis aphid is a newer pest to some growers but has gained a foothold throughout much of North American cannabis. “We have three species of parasitic wasps that can host within the cannabis aphid, as well as the predatory larvae of the green lacewing. These wasps are no larger than 3mm and cannot break human skin, they lay eggs inside of the aphid, and their larvae develop off of the aphid, eventually killing it. Green lacewing larvae are predatory generalists that show a preference for aphids. Lacewing are reserved almost exclusively for vegetative plants because as resin accumulates in flower, the lacewing’s mobility is decreased.”

Spider mites

False sense of security
When introducing beneficial organisms into production, the biggest challenge that growers run into is the initial transition from conventional applications. Erik and Cody explain that when transitioning from conventional chemical applications, you can see the devastation within a few days of application, leaving growers with a false sense of security. “Almost always in this transition, it is wise to have multiple predators or parasitoids, elevated rates, or increased frequency of releases. These factors increase the overall predation or parasitization of the crop, allowing the predators and parasitoids to continue to hold the upper hand. It is always a number game with beneficial organisms. You want to make sure that your beneficials can outlast the pest species. Weekly to monthly applications of certain predators and parasitoids are necessary to maintain an overall high predation and/or parasitization rate.”

Reducing the need for pesticides
Over the years, Beneficial Insectary has expanded their portfolio to include over 20 products, including their new line of biopesticides engineered to work alongside their beneficials, helping to create an IPM plan that will work synergistically. “The research and development teams at Beneficial Insectary are always striving to improve our rearing procedures, shipping methodologies, and IPM technologies to ensure we deliver the highest standards of quality for our loyal clients.”

And there is more yet to come for the company. “We are working on expanding our offerings and service into the large outdoor food crop markets by working with drone-application companies and our distribution partners. Certain crops like orchards were difficult to work biological control agents into before drone applications. Now the scale of the trees and the size of the land have no impact on our ability to spread our natural enemies, reducing the need for traditional pesticides. To further reduce the need for traditional pesticides, we are developing and growing our market for biopesticides and other microbial products alongside Biobest Group and their affiliated manufacturers. Along with these exciting projects, we’re continuing to expand our media library of technical information for educating those interested in utilizing biological control agents,” Erik and Cody add.

For more information:
Beneficial Insectary       

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