The practice of using insects that destroy pests in agricultural fields has been in our country for more than a dozen years. In an environment where the availability of chemical plant protection products is declining, and the demand for environmentally friendly products is growing, biological plant protection products are gaining popularity.
Gift from nature
The name "entomophages" can literally be translated as eaters of insects. The very fact of their existence reminds that nature took care of the balance in the ecosystem, providing for the control of the number of some living organisms by others. And the only thing left for a person is to use the available opportunities correctly.
“Biological plant protection products are becoming more and more in demand every year,” notes the chief entophytopathologist of the Kabardino-Balkarian branch of the Federal State Budget Institution “Rosselkhoztsentr” Tatyana Kisheva.– For many, it becomes obvious that the active use of pesticides adversely affects the quality of agricultural products and harms the environment.
- The use of entomophages cancels pesticide treatments or reduces their frequency, - says the head of the laboratory of biological plant protection of the All-Russian Research Institute of Plant Protection (VIZR) Natalia Belyakova. – In addition, this biomethod allows farmers to solve the problem of resistance, when various pests become resistant to chemical plant protection products.
In Russia, the leading manufacturers of entomophages are the branches of the Russian Agricultural Center in Stavropol, Belgorod and Rostov regions, the republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia and North Ossetia-Alania.
“In our laboratory, one of the largest in the country, entomophages have been produced for 39 years,” says the head of the Shpakovskaya testing laboratory of the branch of the Federal State Budgetary Institution Rosselkhozcenter in the Stavropol Territory Vladimir Sugak. – Trichogramma wasp and caterpillar parasite Gabrobrakon are the main types of ecoparasites that are supplied for agricultural needs.
“We are developing five types of insects that destroy pests of agricultural crops,” adds the head of the branch of the Federal State Budgetary Institution “Rosselkhozcenter” in the Republic of Tatarstan Vitaly Novichkov. – Among them are the polyphagous predator of the lacewing, the podizus bug, a predator of the Colorado potato beetle, and the macrolofus bug, a predator against the whitefly.
A significant share of this product comes to our market from abroad, where biological plant protection products, as cheaper and more effective, are used much more often.
– We deliver entomophages from Italy, the Netherlands, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, – says the General Director of Fly and See Agro LLC Vasily Ptitsyn. – Clients of our company successfully use them to control lepidoptera pests, including cutworms, moths, moths, moths and several dozen more insects.
Features of the "hunt"
The entomophage is introduced into the field in the form of an egg, pupa or adult insect. Predators and eco-parasites are settled according to a special technique, using technical means or by manual release.
“A female gabrobracon finds a pest caterpillar and paralyzes it by injecting a toxin, and then lays up to 45 eggs on its body,” explains the chief expert of the Belgorod branch of the Federal State Budgetary Institution “Rosselkhozcenter” Valentina Bychkova.- The larvae of the parasite, developing, feed on the hemolymph of the caterpillar, from which only the outer covers remain after 9-14 days.
It is a common practice when containers with gabrobracon-infected mill moth caterpillars are placed on crops affected by the pest. As hatching proceeds, the entomophage quickly disperses, actively searching for a host, and adapts to environmental conditions.
The greatest efficiency, up to 92 percent, is shown by the complex use of Gabrobrakon and Trichogramma. Usually there are enough 300-500 individuals of entomophages per hectare of area.
“Trichogramma larvae develop by feeding on the contents of the pest egg,” the specialist continues. - The female entomophage lays about four eggs each time, and during the season their number can reach 50. This leads to the death of the pest's egg at the initial stage of development, when it has not yet had time to damage the plant.
Trichogramma by crops is settled pointwise or in a continuous way, involving the involvement of aviation and unmanned aerial vehicles.
- The introduction of entomophages in our region is carried out using a drone with a dispenser designed by the specialists of the branch, - clarifies Vitaly Novichkov. - The dispenser regulates the feed, allows you to control the speed, uniformity and density of distribution of the biomaterial, ensuring the accuracy of processing.
“We also create special devices that are mounted on drones and allow you to introduce the right species of entomophages in the right dosages,” says Vasily Ptitsyn. - A drone equipped in this way processes up to 15 hectares of fields in 20 minutes of flight, and its average productivity reaches 500-700 hectares per shift.
Potatoes in the future
So far, Russian potato growers do not line up for entomophages. But the most advanced farms are beginning to use them as an alternative to chemical plant protection products.
“We have a unique experience with virus-free seed potatoes in greenhouses where the biomethod has been used against aphids,” says Natalia Belyakova. – Very high demands are placed on the protection of a meristem culture, because one aphid injection is enough to infect a plant with a virus. Entomophages, which have a high search activity and are able to find even single individuals of the pest, coped with their task perfectly well.
- Potato is a promising crop for the use of entomophages, - believes Vasily Ptitsyn. – Potato moth and Colorado potato beetle cause the greatest trouble to producers, and entomophages are effective against both pests. Our company is just engaged in a project to protect plants from the Colorado potato beetle. Successful experiments were carried out in the south of Russia last summer. However, we have to warn farmers that this method does not guarantee a XNUMX% result. The pest is a fodder crop for the entomophage, and if it is completely destroyed, the beneficial insect itself will die of starvation. Part of the harvest will have to be sacrificed for the sake of the same beetle, but the resulting environmentally friendly products can be sold on the market several times more expensive.
No one calls on farmers to immediately abandon the use of the usual plant protection products. You can introduce the biomethod gradually in order to personally verify its effectiveness.
– Entomophages are well compatible with biological fungicides and herbicides, – assures Vitaly Novichkov.–The interval between treatment with biological products and the release of insects should be 1-2 days. And chemical plant protection products, depending on the active substance, can be applied a few days before the release of entomophages or a week after that.
– Simultaneous use with insecticides is also possible, confirms Natalia Belyakova. – But then it is necessary to carry out the selection of entomophages in such a way that they survive during the processing of crops. Insect resistance to pesticides develops quite easily, and in a few dozen generations we will have a line of entomophages compatible with “chemistry”.
At first glance, there is nothing difficult in working with small insects that fight pests in the fields. But this impression is deceptive.
- Entomophages are grown only in special laboratories, creating conditions for them close to natural, - emphasizes Vladimir Sugak. – This is quite costly, hard, mostly manual labor, requiring special knowledge and skills.
“In order to get entomophages, a farmer needs to take care of buying them in advance,” says Valentina Bychkova.- So, applications to the branches of the Rosselkhozcenter for the production of insects are sent a few months before the start of the agricultural season.
- For the use of entomophages, - says Vitaly Novichkov, - surveys of crops are obligatory in order to identify the pest - the owner of a particular entomophage, to determine the phases of its development and abundance. Every year, agronomists of the branch monitor farmland and form phytomaps for harmful objects. The information is entered into the AgroExpert program developed and patented by us, the data of which allow producers to take protective measures in a timely manner.
– The biological method of plant protection is a very science-intensive event that requires special training, – I am convinced Natalia Belyakova. – Today, good specialists are graduating at the Department of Plant Protection of St. Petersburg Agrarian University. Its students undergo industrial practice at our institute, thanks to which they graduate from the university as already experienced agronomists.
– This work requires special competencies, special precision and does not tolerate negligence, – agrees Vasily Ptitsyn. - It is necessary to be able to determine the time of introduction of entomophages, their dosage, the order of alternation with other methods of plant protection. Not every farm has a specialist with the necessary qualifications. Therefore, our company provides agrarians with a full service: from the inspection of crops and the sale of entomophages to their introduction and subsequent sanitary monitoring.
В beetle jars
Representatives of the older generation, who have been engaged in agriculture for many years, know firsthand about the ways to naturally attract beneficial insects to the fields.
– By sowing nectar-bearing plants that produce a large amount of pollen and nectar, you will definitely arouse interest among natural entomophages, advises Natalia Belyakova. – Including hymenoptera parasitoids, which will help reduce the number of aphids.
- Farmers in many countries introduce natural entomophages by hand, adds Vasily Ptitsyn. – Of course, this is a labor-intensive occupation, justified only in farms that cultivate small areas. If an enterprise has hundreds of hectares of fields, it is impossible to implement a biomethod without technical means.
To preserve the population of insects, a special shape of the fields is necessary - elongated so that they do not die immediately after harvesting. For example, an adult ground beetle that loses its ability to fly is unlikely to make it to the edge of a wide field. In addition, agricultural crops should alternate with the so-called beetle banks - uncompressed strips of land where entomophages wait out the time of starvation. Such techniques are needed so that they remain in the agrocenosis in sufficient quantities to control pests and can safely overwinter.
- To attract natural predators and ecoparasites, it is not enough to work within the same field or farm, - explains the head of the laboratory of biological plant protection of the All-Russian Institute of Plant Protection. – Much depends on the agricultural landscape that surrounds the crops. Maintaining conditions conducive to the spread of entomophagous insects requires the efforts of many organizations and local authorities.
Economy and safety
The practice of introducing entomophages in the Russian agricultural sector is spreading, albeit at a slow pace.
“Last season we worked in 10 regions of the country,” says the general director of Fly and See Agro LLC. “For the vast majority of our customers, the effectiveness of pest control ranged from 95 to 100 percent. At the same time, they received agricultural products of improved quality, preventing environmental pollution by chemicals, saving the lives of bees and pollinating insects. And if we compare our service with the cost of top insecticides, then the savings for the enterprise could reach 30-40 percent.
– The biomethod based on the use of entomophages for pest control has great prospects, – says Tatyana Kisheva. – In 2022, our branch sold 1,35 billion Trichogramma and 2,1 billion Gabrobracon. For example, in the Prokhladnensky district of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, it was possible to cancel chemical treatments against the cotton bollworm on an area of one thousand hectares. A trichogram previously released on the pest's oviposition showed an efficiency of about 70 percent.
– Last year, – shares his experience Vitaly Novichkov, - the specialists of the Tatarstan branch introduced a trichogram against leaf-eating pests on an area of more than a thousand hectares and a lacewing against pea aphids on an area of 200 hectares on the crops of mustard, chickpea, peas and spring rapeseed. Work in this direction will be continued in the new season.
“If we talk about the negative consequences for the ecosystem in cases where there are too many beneficial insects, then theoretically they are possible,” admits Natalia Belyakova. “But new pests are constantly appearing. Since we cannot stop their invasion, we should not limit ourselves to the use of entomophages, even if they change the structure of natural populations.