Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Sometimes, despite doing our best to support plant and soil health and a vibrant and diverse ecosystem, our crops will still experience pest and disease pressure. While, philosophically, perhaps we should view it as nature taking care of our imperfect management practices and the whims of the natural world, our practical, need to feed our families, response is often to try to figure out the cause and address it to minimize the negative effects of the issue.

Pest and disease issues are often the single biggest barrier for farmers adopting more biological/regenerative agricultural practices. Farmers need to make money, and gardeners are reticent to give up on their efforts to grow their plants, so when faced with the threat of pests and disease, most immediately reach for a treatment. And most of these treatments are chemical-based. Even many organic treatments are often simply a naturally derived pesticide... something designed to kill with variable levels of specificity.

But there is a relatively "new" option that is showing some intriguing results. The category known as biological pesticides.

This is growing out of research in IPM (integrated pest management), where you use things like predatory insects to control crop pests. We all know about the benefits of lady bugs, and we now have many other options, like green lacewings, praying mantids, beneficial nematodes, and even pest-specific beneficials like Mesoseiulus longipes (a mite predator) or Eretmocerus eremicus (a whitefly parasite).

But in a rapidly expanding new class of options, we now have bacteria and fungi that hold promise to control, or prevent, outbreaks of various crop diseases. Many of these are quite new, and as such, it can be hard to find them, and information about their use or effectiveness.

Below is a partial list of some of these. Most I've never used before, but I'm testing many of them and research indicates they can be useful tools to help management a wide variety of disease issues.

While I'm not arguing that this is THE answer, and that regenerative agriculture need only adapt the chemical treatment protocols to use organic options, many of these hold promise to enable commercial success while moving toward more regenerative agricultural practices. If an insect infestation, or disease outbreak, has the potential to push a farmer, or gardener, off the path to becoming a regenerative grower, then these tools may provide the important stop-gap measure to enable success. Furthermore, many of these options use microbes found in healthy soils everywhere, so these can be seen as improving microbial diversity. These are tools to learn more about, and I think they will find increased acceptance and use, especially in conjunction with the soil balancing, ecosystem diversity, and other "tools" in the regenerative ag toolbox.

If you learn more about these, or other options, or use them, please report on what you know by commenting on this post.

Bacillus amyloliquefaciens (brand name/s: Garden Sentinel™ Biofungicide, Triathlon® BA)

Streptomyces lydicus (brand name/s: Actinovate® Biological Fungicide)

Bacillus subtilis (brand name/s: Companion® Biological Fungicide wettable powder)

T. harzianum strain T-22, and T. virens strain G-41 (brand name/s: RootShield® Plus WP Biological Fungicide)