A story of natural pest control, in which a multinational supplier of fresh vegetables and fruit is embracing entomology for sustainability. In Chile, insects naturally control agricultural pests such as Mealybugs and White scale in a pioneering project.
In a large demonstration scheme to show that a shift to more sustainable production management is possible, Westfalia Fruit Chile is targeting biological control as the preferred method of crop management. Using insects and other natural control methods may also contribute to its global target to enhance tree health and minimize the use of pesticides.
The company has an insect-rearing facility at Pomaire, west of Santiago, on one of its biggest and most significant farms. Working with specialists, the facility produces beetle predators such as Rhyzobius lophanthae and Coccidophillus citricola for the control of White scale in avocado and Red Scale in citrus, as well as Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, known as ‘Mealybug destroyer’ for the control of Mealybugs in citrus, avocados, and blueberries.
This large, ground-breaking project is initially being rolled out on the company’s farms in Chile. “This season we are targeting 70% of our own farms to be participating in insect release programs and that increases to 100% for citrus and avocado,” said Juan Enrique Ortuzar, Westfalia’s R&D manager in the country.
“We are developing and testing the program on our commercial farms and when we have proof of concept, we will communicate this initiative with our growers and offer them insects if they would like to join. We have also started training our team so that they can educate and support growers as we roll this out,” Ortuzar continued.
A plan for each bug
In the last year, Westfalia Fruit Chile has developed an insect release plan for each participating farm, with insects reared for each season and fruit that is grown. On all the farms, managers practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which now includes insect releases, and at the packhouses a high-pressure washer in to eradicate the small number of pests that remain.
“We live with, for example, White scale in the orchard but we are well below the so-called economic damage threshold. By practicing IPM we deliver a quality product in a very safe and natural way,” explained Ortuzar.
To complement the use of insects for natural pest control, the Westfalia Chile team is also trialing mild plant treatments using pheromones, a new approach that causes sexual confusion for some pests, increasing control success without disrupting the natural balance of the orchard.
Natural pest control means fewer pesticides
This project has shown such success that it has already grown from Chile to Colombia which faces extreme pest and disease challenges. Westfalia’s Colombian farms had already decreased their pesticide applications through this new program of natural pest control.
“The whole idea is to reduce chemical treatment to a minimum and we believe we can achieve that with this kind of approach. It’s interesting because once you start this journey the more you learn and we are developing our own ideas and changing procedures based on our growing experience and successes. If our project could serve as a model for Westfalia globally we would be very proud,” Ortuzar concluded.
Agricultural entomology is a multidisciplinary area of research. Simply described agricultural entomology is applied ecology with roots in plant protection and the population dynamics of insects. The focus of agricultural entomology is not only insect pests, but also the beneficial arthropods found in the agroecosystem that contribute to ecosystem services such as biological control and pollination. An important component of research in plant protection is the interaction among pest insects, their natural enemies and alternative prey.