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Bugs can be a solution for high-tunnel farmers

A closeup of a small bug

SIMPSON, Ill. – 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. Using pesticides to control insects can be challenging as not many insecticides are labeled for use within a high tunnel and some insecticides can remove natural predators, making pest outbreaks more likely.

With more than 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 a healthy, active ecosystem, a population balance can be struck between insects categorized as pests and their natural enemies, minimizing damage from the insect pests. How can a balance between pest insects and their natural enemies happen in high tunnel production systems? The answer may be biological control, or intentionally introducing natural predators to control insect pests and reduce crop damage.

This June, walk through the high tunnels at Dixon Springs Agricultural Center with University of Illinois crop researchers and experts. 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 to manage insect pest populations at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 23 at Dixon Springs Agricultural Center, 354 State Hwy 145 N in Simpson, IL.

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. 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.

“Anyone interested in learning more about biological control options and high tunnel vegetable production is welcome to join us and capitalize on this on-farm learning and networking opportunity,” says Aly.

There is no cost to attend, but please preregister at or call (618) 695-2441. For more information, contact Bronwyn Aly at (618) 695-2441 or

If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate, please contact Bronwyn Aly at Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time to meet your needs. University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment. 

SOURCE: Bronwyn Aly, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator, University of Illinois Extension

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