IOBC Workshop

In September 2011 we made the long haul across the pond to England to attend an International Organisation for Biological Control (IOBC) workshop, specifically, a meeting of the Western Palaearctic Regional Section, Temperate Climate Working Group for Integrated Control in Protected Crops. This is a bit of a mouthful but distinguishes it from several other regional and crop- or pest-specific working groups under the auspices of the IOBC. We reported on a meeting of the Mediterranean Climate IOBC greenhouse IPM group held in Crete in PH&G Issue 109, Nov/Dec 2009. These two groups each meet every 3 years and are offset. The Temperate Climate group usually meets in Western Europe, but occasionally in North America. One of us first attended a meeting in Budapest in 1987, and became an instant convert to the common aims of the participants. In this case it was a joint meeting with colleagues in the Eastern European group, so far regrettably not repeated. Despite the language difficulties for Eastern European members, and an interesting episode when a Hungarian Communist Party minder became overexcited by a little local discussion between three of us westerners, concerned that the Encarsia program in a local greenhouse was heading for some difficulties, it was a very worthwhile exchange of common ideals and ideas.

The meeting draws members mainly from biocontrol companies, government research institutions, private consultants, universities and associated industries, with a scattering of Australian retirees. It has the common goal of advancing practical knowledge of biocontrol use in protected crops, which include greenhouses, nurseries and tunnel houses. While most of the 90 attendees came from Europe, with 15 countries represented, members also came from Japan, Brazil, Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Israel and we ourselves as the only Australians. Attendance was down from about 120 in previous years, perhaps a reflection of the downturn in the global economy. We were personally thankful for contributions from Syngenta Bioline (UK), Biological Services SA, Bugs for Bugs (QLD), Organic Crop Protectants (NSW) and PH&G to lighten the load. Considering that one-third of the attendees came from England, that university students were few and far between, and USA representation, once strong, was reduced to two people, this is perhaps a disturbing indication of the global downturn in research investment in environmental horticulture, which we flagged in our article in PH&G Issue 120, Sep/Oct 2011. Horticulture Australia Ltd declined to contribute to our attendance, to the detriment of greenhouse growers in this country, who will not have access to a full report of proceedings and insights gleaned. Self-funding is not a sustainable option for gathering information from overseas, which will primarily benefit Australian producers of protected crops.

The Program

The local organisers did a good job of providing a full and interesting program, including two separate afternoon trips to nearby greenhouses to see biocontrol in action. Australian growers could not have helped but be impressed by the professionalism and great success of biocontrol methods in these diverse operations in the best of greenhouse production facilities and a wide range of crops: more on this in subsequent issues of PH&G. The meeting, held 18- 22 September 2011 in southern England in Sutton Scotney, Hampshire, included an opening address by Dr Phil Walker on the status of IPM in the UK, and sessions on: Invasive pest species and their IPM in new areas of distribution; Direct and indirect influence of the external environment on IPM in greenhouses; Improving efficacy of biocontrol agents and IPM; Challenging pests (aphids, mites and whiteflies); Pesticide issues; and IPM in ornamentals and soft fruits.

A UK perspective on IPM in protected crops

Dr Phil Walker, a private consultant formerly with BCP/Certis in Wye, Kent, gave the opening address. He affirmed that in the UK, supermarkets, growers and the public were still very keen on pests being controlled by biocontrol methods rather than by pesticides. Expertise is scattered though with the demise of many government research stations, with the main source of information on biocontrol being the producers of biocontrol agents, then specialist advisers. Supermarkets in the UK, no doubt influenced by what savvy consumers want, are these days very much the driver for reduction in pesticide use in field and greenhouse crops. This driver is so far conspicuously absent from the Australian scene. One would hope it won’t take a crisis such as occurred in Spain and in Europe recently to shift public sentiment toward demanding pesticide-free produce, but the recent precipitous decline in research funding into viable pest control alternatives in this country leaves us ill-equipped to step into the breach. Grower levies in the vegetable industry are being diverted into marketing, promotion and political lobbying, and pest management turned over to the pesticide companies, which will not provide the answers to the questions that consumers have regarding the safety of their food. The chances that the few researchers still specialising in biocontrol will survive the lack of funding look increasingly slim, and is of great concern to us. The few biocontrol companies in Australia also do it tough because of tyranny of distance and the small market, so are unable to offer the type of on-the-spot advice which their counterparts in Europe and North America can enviably provide.

European Directive 128/2009 regarding sustainable use

Relevant to this topic was the keynote talk by Dr Susan Sütterlin, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture & Innovation, Directorate Agriculture, Plant Protection, The Netherlands, on EU Directive 128/2009 regarding sustainable pesticide use. Dr Sütterlin was previously a researcher in biocontrol in greenhouses prior to her present position, so is well attuned to the possibilities of non-chemical pest control. The intent of the Directive is to establish a framework for community action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides. By EU rules, The Sustainable Use Directive must be adopted and enforced by member states next year, but there are problems, as you might imagine. Each state must have a National Action Plan, provide training and certification and information on IPM tools, and have an obligation to apply general IPM principles, this by 2014. The Netherlands is well on the way to being able to implement the Directive, but other countries are faltering. A comment was made that the plan is very ambitious but that no money is going into basic research in IPM to provide the knowledge base necessary.

It appears also that ‘emergency’ loopholes are allowing pesticides to be used on a scale far broader than intended, which will delay the transition period and the willingness to change. There are several websites with information on the Directive and its progress. We suggest accessing the OPERA seminar on Risk Indicator Selection and Quantitative Targets to meet Sustainable Use Directive Objectives, if only to gain some appreciation of the mind-boggling complexities of introducing such a far-reaching change across disparate nations ( We watch with interest, but little confidence that the Australian government will feel moved to take the initiative in developing the tools that growers need for at least a pesticide-reduced future. Even a much-needed revamp of minor-use of pesticides legislation is languishing in the doldrums, not for a shortage of good suggestions.

A US viewpoint on invasive pests

There were many interesting presentations and follow-up discussions, information from which will be incorporated in future articles, but two other excellent keynote addresses deserve mention. The topic of the talk by Prof. Michael Parrella, University of California, Davis, was ‘Proactive Development of IPM Programs for Invasive Pests’. If I may paraphrase Prof. Parrella, what the US authorities have been doing in regard to invasive pests for many years is “papering over the cracks”, at huge cost but achieving little improvement in actually managing those pests, let alone eradicating them. What is needed is a systems approach to IPM for invasive species and an invasive species policy, but this is very difficult to achieve. Quarantine directives in California affect the greenhouse and ornamental industries rather than field crops. The National Invasive Species Council has responsibility at a national level for invasive pests but the reality is that while its activities and directives look good on paper the war is being lost. Similarly, the Invasive Species Council of California is focussed on eradication rather than prevention. Emergency programs for the same pest go on year after year and soak up personnel and money to little end except to tread water. Many of the quarantine pests in reality are resident and it is just not possible to eradicate them, but authorities are stuck in the same groove. The action has more to do with keeping trade routes open or conducting a public-relations exercise than managing the problem. Mike would like to see a change in thinking based on good science, and is part of a UC Davis team examining alternative approaches (Feb/March 2012 meeting at UC Davis coming up). One of the side-effects of an overbearing eradication focus has been that to conform to protocols, a heavy reliance is placed on pesticides to ‘eradicate’ the pest.

The huge cost burden falls on the horticultural industry. These protocols serve mostly to undermine and sideline IPM programs, which might have better ‘managed’ the reality of dealing with an established pest. This is not to say that eradication should not be considered for new invasive pests, but decisions should be based on scientific reality and limited resources directed more to prevention and management.

A European approach to a new invasive pest

Dr Rob Jacobson, RJC Ltd, Bramham, Yorkshire, presented just about the right counterbalance for the current US approach to invasive pests in his talk ‘Tuta absoluta: A realistic approach to IPM?’ We wrote about this new invasive lepidopteran pest in PH&G Issue 108, Sep/Oct 2009. Since then it has continued to spread to adjoining countries, but a major effort by European IPM specialists is making significant inroads in managing the problem within a total crop IPM program. It was clearly not an option for eradication in Europe but there is every reason to prevent it from arriving in Australia, particularly because we do not have the personnel and biocontrol specialists able to control it without pesticides. A cooperative scientific approach was taken very early on, with teams from various countries studying different aspects of its life-cycle, alternative crop and weed hosts, pheromones and possible control options. The approach was conducted in four phases. The first was to suppress the initial population growth with screening, mass trapping, mating disruption, biocontrol-compatible pesticides, physical controls and available generalist predators. In the second phase, heavier-duty pesticides and entomopathogenic nematodes were evaluated. In the third phase, management of two generalist predatory bugs was necessary to prevent plant damage in tomatoes, and finally, in the fourth phase, methods for clean-up of an infestation between crops were developed. With this it has been possible to reduce damage to a manageable level. Given its potential importance to Australia, we plan to provide an update to managing this pest in a future issue.

Field study tours

The first field study tour went to VHB Herbs, Donaldson’s Nursery (strawberries), Madestein UK Ltd (lettuce), Roundstone Newlands near Chichester (bedding and pot plants), Walberton Nursery, Arundel (ornamental shrubs and pot plants) and Becker Underwood Ltd, Littlehampton (entomopathogenic nematodes). Unfortunately, we were not able to split ourselves between three buses going to different operations but all would have been of interest. The second tour went to Double H Nurseries Ltd, New Milton (pot plants), a handy drop-off point for supper at the Domus, adjacent to The Beaulieu Motor Museum, and a 1am return to base for two tired but enthused travellers. Again, more details on some of these tours in the next issue.

About the authors

Stephen Goodwin and Marilyn Steiner are IPM consultants trading as Biocontrol Solutions at Mangrove Mountain.