Biological Control in High Tunnels
When Bugs Are the Solution and Not the Problem
More Illinois specialty crop growers are planting in high tunnels to benefit from the extended growing season, increased crop diversity, higher yields, and improved quality. But high tunnels come with their own unique challenges including insect pests that can cause major damage if not controlled. Pesticides are one control measure but can be challenging as not many insecticides are labeled for use within a high tunnel or some insecticides can also eliminate any natural predators, making pest outbreaks more likely.
This June, walk through the high tunnels at Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in southern Illinois with University of Illinois crop science experts to learn about cutting-edge research updates. Kacie Athey, specialty crops entomologist, and Bronwyn Aly, University of Illinois Extension educator, will share their experiences and observations from their research on biological control - using predator insects to manage insect pest populations.
Anyone interested in learning more about biological control options and high tunnel vegetable production is welcome to attend and capitalize on this on-farm learning and networking opportunity.
With over 100,000 different species in North America, insects and other arthropods are found in all types of ecosystems, including agricultural production systems. Many times in an healthy, active ecosystem, a population balance can be struck between insects categorized as pests and their natural enemies, minimizing damage from the insect pests. But how can this balance be achieved within an intensively managed high tunnel production system? The answer may very well be biological control, or the intentional introduction of natural predators to control insect pests and reduce crop damage.
Research has shown that biological control is effective on insect pests in greenhouses, but it’s unknown if they work in a high tunnel system, a hoop structure covered with plastic, that is passively vented and not completely enclosed. To help Illinois growers protect their investment, researchers launched a two-year project in the summer of 2021 at Dixon Springs Agricultural Center. Athey and Aly released insect predators into high tunnels with tomatoes, peppers, and a few other crops to see if and how they affected common pest populations of spider mites, aphids, whiteflies, and thrips.
If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate, please contact Bronwyn Aly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time to meet your needs. University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.