Finding a Predator for the Tarnished Plant Bug will help Strawberry Fields without Pesticide
In Canada, Quebec is the leader in strawberry production. Over half of all strawberries grown in Canada come from Quebec. There are over 200 strawberry farms in the province, and 11 different varieties of strawberries are made available from the June to October picking season.
Like many fruit crops, strawberries have their share of pests. The most commonly known in strawberry fields is the tarnished plant bug. The tarnished plant bug in North America feeds on more than 130 other crops, including apples, cotton, alfalfa, tomatoes, and peppers.
The bug will eat the strawberry flower or will attack the fruit itself. This causes the berry to become deformed, which is economically bad for the growers because stores reject them if they are not “perfect”. Farmers have turned to chemical pesticides to get rid of the tarnished plant bug but found that after two weeks, the bugs return again.
Researchers from the University de Quebec a Montreal (UQAM) are looking for a more environmentally friendly and biological way to eliminate pests. They have found that a biological control agent could pursue prey in the environment and help regulate the population of pests throughout a given territory.
The researchers are looking at a few predators that live among strawberry plants but do not feed on them. Instead, they feed on prey (i.e. the tarnished plant bug) or alternate between prey and plant resources such as pollen. The benefits of having predators are that they will reduce the number of pest populations and create fear among them.
After two weeks of introducing the predators to the strawberry fields, the researchers saw a significant impact on the tarnished plant bug populations. The effect lasted almost a month and a half (longer than most traditional chemicals), and the pests were seen to change their feeding behaviour and limited their movements to specific areas. All of which resulted in fewer damaged strawberries.
The predators the researchers were using are native insects already present in Quebec naturally. Their next steps are to use more of them to effectively play their role as a biological control agent and protect the strawberries when they are the most vulnerable.
This method might make farmers hesitant to use it because they have less control over how the protection works and worry about their crops’ quality while introducing new insects to the mix. Yet, this method is far more environmentally sound than harmful pesticides, which can damage the environment and even the farmers themselves.
Taking natural approaches to getting rid of pests is growing in crops all around the world. In California’s vineyards, for example, farmers are ditching the rodenticide and using owls to control the problem of gophers and mice. In nature, just about everything has a predator and finding how to utilize that in our crops can reduce the need for chemicals and help us create safe and environmentally friendly crops.