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About biological control

What is biological control?

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In a natural ecosystem, plants are continuously being attacked by all kinds of pests and pathogens such as insects, fungi and bacteria. In the natural ecosystem plants can survive thanks to the help of natural enemies of these unwanted pests and pathogens. In this way, population developments of all players in a natural ecosystem are controlled.

But compared to nature, cropping systems are less stable due to human interferences. This often results in the populations of the naturally occurring enemies being too small or developing too late, resulting in diseased or damaged plants. Biological control is the release of extra natural enemies to suppress pests and diseases in crops.

To prevent economic damage, pesticides are commonly used in agriculture and forestry to protect crops from pests and pathogens. The EU wants to reduce dependency on pesticides and emphasizes the important role of alternatives for the use of pesticides like biological control products.

What are biological control products and how are they produced?

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What are they?

Biological control products are commercially available products that contain beneficial organisms: the naturally occurring enemies of unwanted pests and pathogens. Companies select and multiply natural enemies from nature. These natural enemies or ‘biological control agents’ can be viruses, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, or insects. The products are mass-produced in commercial plants and are distributed to growers who apply the biological control products via seed dressing, spray application, or release in case of beneficial insects. Biological control products are used in agriculture and forestry, including organic systems, as one of the control strategies in integrated pest management (IPM). Biological control products are considered as ecologically sustainable and safe crop protection solutions. The use of biological control products is regulated by governmental regulations for registration and use.


Production

Companies who develop biological control products, look to nature and investigate and analyze the natural enemies of specific pests and diseases. Strong selection criteria are being used to select the best candidates. For the candidates showing strong control efficacy, biocontrol industries will design procedures for mass production and packaging, which has sufficient shelf life and are easily handled by end-users. This will result in biological control products capable of protecting specific crops against specific pests and diseases. Unfortunately, the range of biological products for pest control is still limited: a total share of 3.5% of the global crop protection markets, a market of € 1.2 billion per year. Biological alternatives for major applications of pesticides are still lacking.

How to use biological control products?

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Farmers and foresters must use a whole set of tactics to keep their crops healthy.  Biological control is one of these tactics. All tactics together are called Integrated Pest Management. The EU emphasizes the role of integrated pest management as an important approach to reduce dependency on pesticides use (Directive 2009/128/EC).
Integrated Pest Management starts with clean propagation material such as seeds. During the growing season, monitoring takes place and if the level of a pest or pathogen becomes too high, farmers and foresters will start with mechanical and biological control and if really needed will make the step to chemical pesticides.

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Examples of biological control

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