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Advantages of biocontrol

This article was originally published on the CABI BioProtection Portal blog. Visit the original blog post here.

There are many advantages of biocontrol compared to chemical pest control. In this blog, we look at five of the main ones.

We’re focusing on two types of biocontrol – also called bioprotectants. Firstly, biopesticides include pheromones, micro-organisms and natural substances. Natural substances can be things such as minerals and oils. Secondly, macrobials or invertebrate biocontrol agents. This includes beneficial organisms such as insects and mites.

Plantwise Plant Doctors promote the benefits of natural biopesticides to a female farmer in Cambodia. Credit CABI

Advantages of biocontrol #1: They lower negative impacts on human health

From farmers and field workers to residues in food products, chemical pesticides pose many health issues to people. Biological approaches can deliver on pest control while maintaining the safety of both consumers and workers.

Low or no toxicity is a significant advantage of biocontrol. This is especially true when considering the harmful residues that chemicals can leave on the crop. While biocontrol has little to no toxicity, every chemical has residue limits. Growers cannot exceed them by law. They can even have their produce rejected when residues are too high.

Using biocontrol products also lowers the health risks to the farmers themselves. Handling and spraying toxic chemicals can have serious negative consequences. Using biocontrol eliminates these risks.

Low or no toxicity means biocontrol also has very short or no pre-harvest intervals. (These are the time periods at which pest control applications must stop before harvesting starts). Chemicals often have long pre-harvest intervals to give them time to disperse. If growers find a pest shortly before harvesting, they can use biocontrol to manage pests, even if they can’t use chemicals.

Advantages of biocontrol #2: They have minimal impact on the environment

Insecticide chemical damage on leaves. Douglas-fir tussock moth control project. Credit: USDA Forest Service, Region 6, State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection.

Closely linked to this is another significant advantage of biocontrol – it’s environmentally friendly. Chemical pesticides have harmful residues that can seep into the soil or run off into water sources and harm wildlife. They control and kill pests. But they also indiscriminately kill beneficial organisms and upset the delicate balance of nature.

Bioprotectants, on the other hand, are natural products and degrade quickly. Any negative effects are transient. They come from the very environments in which they’re meant to be used. They’ve co-evolved with beneficial organisms, such as ladybirds, mites and pollinators like bees. Bioprotectants control pests naturally without disturbing biodiversity or ecosystems.

Advantages of biocontrol #3: They slow down pest resistance

Here is a lesser-known advantage of biocontrol. It slows down resistance to plant protection products. With chemicals, there’s a risk that the pest becomes used to the chemical. It can build up resistance to it which means that the chemical no longer kills or controls the pest.

With biocontrol, you can replace a singular mode of action with multiple modes of action. Each time, the pest must find a new way to fight the biocontrol, slowing down resistance.

Growers can use different modes of action to manage pests. Fungi, for example, can grow inside pests and suffocate them. Substances like natural oils can confuse or smother pests. Beneficial insects can actively seek out pests and attack them.

Advantages of biocontrol #4: Some bioprotectants actively seek out pests

The greyback cane beetle is the worst insect pest of sugar cane. CSIRO developed the biopesticide, Biocane, as an alternative to chemical pesticides. The active ingredient is the naturally occurring fungus, metarhizium. Credit: CSIRO

Here’s the fourth advantage of biocontrol. Macrobials – insects and nematodes (microscopic worms), for example – can move around to find the pest. With chemicals, growers have to rely on applying the chemical to exactly the right location and trust that the pest will come into contact with the chemical.

This means macrobials can find pests even if they’re ‘hiding’. For example, growers can mix nematodes into the ground. The worms then search out slugs. Growers don’t need to just ‘hope’ the slug will discover a slug pellet. Beneficial mites can seek out pests that hide under leaves or find them during certain times of the day.

Advantages of biocontrol #5: They help growers align with environmental and health regulations

A significant advantage of biocontrol is its compatibility with environmental and health regulations. Bioprotectants also align with integrated pest management (IPM) and organic certification schemes. And they can support biodynamic agriculture.

Growers are under pressure to find alternatives to chemical pest control. Some regions of the world such as the EU are very serious about reducing chemical pesticides. Growers need to keep their businesses competitive and sustainable. By avoiding chemicals, they can achieve higher food production standards. They can also reach stricter international markets. This can help to future-proof their businesses and livelihoods.

Learning more about the advantages of biocontrol

Watch out for our mini-blog series on the advantages of biocontrol. We’ll be posting it over the coming weeks. We’ll dive into each of these five advantages in more detail.

Interested in learning more about biocontrol and biopesticides? Check out the CABI BioProtection Portal.

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