Biocontrol - using nature to control agricultural pests
It's a case of finding the right predator or fungus to help nature control crop pests thereby protecting our environment by reducing the need for chemical pesticides. This method of using live organisms to control insects, weeds and plant diseases is referred to as
"biological control." In North America we have been using
"nature" to help control pests since 1882. In fact, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has developed significant expertise in finding and developing biological controls and has helped introduce many natural pest control systems to protect Canadian crops.
In many cases biological controls are used to fight invasive alien species which have invaded North America without any natural enemies from their place of origin. These pests cause more than $3 billion (10 per cent of crop value) annually in measurable losses to agriculture in Canada. Luckily, Canada has a good track record in fighting these crop pests through using biological controls. For example, since 1952 Canada has released over 75 different biocontrol agents to help manage 24 invasive weeds.
In recent years Canada has implemented an improved regulatory process that considers both economic and environmental values to ensure the continued safety of biocontrols. Ultimately, both the benefits and risks of every pest control action or non-action must be weighed when making decisions that may affect our environment. Decisions are made based on research information presented in petitions submitted to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for insect biocontrol agents, and in dossiers of regulatory data required for assessment by Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) in the case of microbial
For their part, AAFC operates two main facilities in Ottawa, ON and Lethbridge, AB to help scientists develop and introduce biocontrol agents. First-time shipments of biocontrols (e.g., insects) not native to Canada are routed through the National Containment Facility in Ottawa. Here taxonomic experts at the Canadian National Collection of Insects (CNC) verify that the correct species is being imported. Scientists there may also help purify shipped colonies, destroy diseased or parasitized individuals, select specimens to include in the national collection of the CNC, and initiate artificial overwintering of pupae before they emerge as adults. Scientists in Ottawa also conduct research on candidate biocontrol agents in this secure facility.
In Alberta, a new state-of-the-art insect-microbial containment facility at the AAFC Lethbridge Research Centre also provides a secure environment which for researchers to study insect pests and evaluate possible control methods. The facility, officially opened in 2006, contains two main areas: one for studying insects, and a second for studying insect or plant pathogens.
Because many of the agents used in biological control come from overseas places such as Europe or Eurasia (where many of our pests originate), the containment facilities in Ottawa and Lethbridge also play, now and in the future, an important role during testing and study of new biocontrol organisms prior to their approved release into the Canadian environment.
AAFC's Pest Management Centre (PMC) is also working to improve access to and promote adoption of biopesticides by Canadian growers. Members of the PMC's Pesticide Risk Reduction Program provide regulatory assistance to the biocontrol industry, support research, data generation, and demonstration projects to encourage adoption. This work supports the implementation of pesticide risk reduction strategies identified as priority issues by industry and growers. Since 2003 the PMC has funded more than fifty projects involving biopesticides, and since 2005 has faciltated in registration submissions for fourteen products, five of which are now registered in Canada.
All of these resources support scientists across Canada whose expertise helps provide technologies to reduce the impact of pest control measures on the environment and reduce chemical pesticide use. Using biological controls has many benefits: they can help replace or reduce the use of conventional pesticides, can be used where and when no other pest control options exist (e.g., control of weeds in riparian habitats), and can stop pests from reaching the thresholds where farmers can experience economic loss. Moreover, there are many examples of the successful use of biological control against pests in Canada and globally. Canadian scientists are highly regarded internationally for their contributions to biocontrol research.