Predators, Prey, And A Balanced Buffet

There is a relative in our family who, at large holiday gatherings, has a habit of stacking his dinner plate. If you’re behind this person in the serving line, no smoked salmon for you. However, if you can manoeuvre past him, or shadow him closely and monitor his intake, there will be more than enough food to go around.

That type of interference is the human form of what farmers call integrated pest management, or IPM. It is the practice of introducing predatory insects to a crop, allowing them to feast on infesting bugs who are making quick work of the produce.

Biological warfare

Koppert Biological Systems was founded in 1967 by Jan Koppert, a Dutch cucumber grower who fell ill after developing an allergy to insecticides. Many of the critters used in Canada for IPM are brought in from the Netherlands. Make way for the Dutch persimilis!

The company now operates in more than 100 countries and has a Canadian head office in Scarborough, Ontario. Melissa Hargreaves is Koppert Canada’s inside technical consultant. She explains how the organization cultivates its predators before shipping them to our country: “They’re basically produced in lab conditions, called rearing chambers, which are specially designed as closed greenhouses. Or they are in large giant fermenters that you’re purchasing.”

Despite the Jurassic Park images conjured when one imagines a crateload of pests being secured for transport, IPM is a very controlled system that is always held in delicate balance. Specific predators are required for specific prey.

“If you grow cucumber, one of their main issues is spider mites,” Hargreaves says. “Tomatoes? Their main issue is white flies. Your lettuce and leafy greens? Aphids.”

Using natural enemies in combat

When matching a diner with their meal, it’s important to understand their diet. Certain predators will only feed on specific prey, Hargreaves says. “Persimilis is a predatory mite that only feeds off spider mites. So, we specifically suggest that people use it as a curative approach. Another predatory mite is Amblyseius swirskii; its short name is Miss Whiskey. That is a generalist predator and that is used to combat white flies.”

As challenging as it is to understand the biology and chemistry involved in balancing a farm’s ecosystem, farmers themselves can pose a challenge to Koppert. If the pests are stored in an environment that is too hot or too cold, or they’re stored for too long, the lot is lost and the whole process must begin again with an order being shipped from the Netherlands.

Koppert’s main clients are farmers looking to keep their pesticide load below the threshold set by the Canadian government. However, others are retail customers who find them on social media sites and use IPM management at home, for their houseplants!

I wonder if I could order a small batch of houseflies, or fruit flies, and train them to only harass certain holiday guests. I really just want a sense of balance between the holiday buffet and my dinner plate.

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