There is a difference between pests and bugs. Instead of applying harmful chemicals to grow produce, farmers can use what are called the “good bugs” to fight the pests. This natural pest control method prevents disturbing the natural balance, and is safer for farmers and the food supply. Bringing the “good bugs” to the agricultural plots where the balance has been disrupted by chemicals, can help to reverse the effect.
Within plant protection, the discipline of biological pest control is defined as the use of living organisms or “good bugs” to reduce populations of harmful plant pests, and in the process reducing the need for chemical use. These “good bugs” have existed in the world for thousands of years and in the last 120 years people started to use them as means of biological control in agriculture.
In addition to the safety of food quality, the safety of application is also an important factor. Distributing the “good bugs,” instead of wearing special clothes and gas masks and applying chemicals, is one of the main reasons that growers prefer the natural pest control. Also many growers dread the idea that the pests will become resistant to the applied chemicals, just as bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics. The “good bugs” never get tired of fighting the pests.
The more the public demands the reduction of chemicals, the more growers become aware of the fact that they should, wherever they can and wherever possible, replace the chemical control with biological control.
Shimon Steinberg discusses this difference between pests and bugs at this TED conference. One example he cites is the pest thrips, which trasmits viral diseases to plants. Its natural enemy is a minute pirate bug. The bug goes to the fruit flowers, so no harm is done to the developing fruit.
Another example is a devastating pest the spider mite, which turns a leaf from green to white. Nature provides a “good spider,” a small predatory spider which hunts the spider mites and is always hungry for more. One gram of predatory mites contains 80,000 individuals, good enough to control 4,000 square meters or one acre plot almost one year. Several dozens of kilograms of these can be produced on an annual basis in specialized greenhouses. This mass-production is not genetic manipulation, the bugs are simply taken from nature and are given the optimal conditions to proliferate, multiply and reproduce.
The overall turnover of the bio-control industry worldwide is about $250 million. The overall pesticide industry in all the crops throughout the world is a hundred times bigger – $25 billion. There is a huge gap to bridge with more intensive and strict public demand for a reduction of chemicals in the agricultural fresh produce.
In Shimon’s word, “On behalf of all the biocontrol petitioners and implementers around the world, give nature a chance.”