Pests & Predators, Ep. 1: Do you know your field heroes?

There was a time when many people thought of field insects like weeds — all bad. Weeds steal yield, so we try to eliminate all or mostly all of those weeds. Now through many years of research, the way we look at insects in a crop has begun to shift away from this all-bad, all-must-go kind of thinking.

Jennifer Otani, pest management biologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)-Beaverlodge, is one of those researchers that has dedicated a significant amount of timing looking at biological control of pests and beneficial insects.

Otani joins host Shaun Haney in the very first episode of our Pest & Predators podcast, to talk about beneficial insects — whether they are pollinators, predators, or parasitoids — and how their complex life cycles can control some of the most wide-spread economic pests.

“It’s an area of research where many producers maybe don’t have as much appreciation for, simply because it’s tough data to collect. So a number of people have been working on this globally, for a very long time,” she explains, adding that before there were pesticides, beneficial insects were some of the most essential insect control methods.

How we understand the interactions between insect pests and their beneficial counterparts is changing, and as Otani notes, the perspective across the industry is evolving as well.

“We are really starting to understand, maybe with a different perspective, how we need to augment and preserve (beneficial insects) in order to make the most of what is essentially free labour out in some of these fields. It’s not a situation that anyone has really forgotten about them; it’s more that as agriculture continues to evolve, we are starting to better understand how these beneficials are actually functioning —  particularly in field crop operations,” says Otani.

In order to effectively use this free labour that is available in our fields, the number one key point is to get out into your fields and scout, so you can make an educated decision on whether or not to spray if the populations are at the economic threshold.

When making the call to control a pest population, farmers need to go further than just identifying the pest and level of damage, remembering that the insecticide will eliminate those field heroes that are working hard on your behalf. The presence of a pest population has to exceed the economic threshold in order to make that application worth it, not just financially, but biologically, as well.

Listen to the first Pest & Predator podcast below or download for later!

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