The predatory bug Orius has been used to control thrips in sweet pepper for many years with great success, but the results have so far been disappointing in ornamentals. Researchers Marjolein Kruidhof and Gerben Messelink now think they have found a solution. With a new method of using the bugs that involves supplementary feeding, thrips can now be successfully controlled in chrysanthemums.
Thrips are the biggest threat to ornamental growers’ crops. Research into biological predators for this pest has been going on for many years. Good results have been achieved with predatory mites, but this has often failed to eliminate the problem because the predatory mites only attack the young larvae. The predatory bug Orius is a very effective weapon against thrips in both the larval and adult stages but it has trouble establishing in ornamental crops. Numerous ways of overcoming this problem have been investigated, ranging from banker plants to feeding stations, but there has been no real breakthrough. Until now, that is.
In the spring of 2017 the Wageningen University & Research Greenhouse Horticulture business unit in the Netherlands started experimenting with a new approach to thrips control in chrysanthemum cultivation. Instead of starting off with chemical crop protection products, the researchers are now introducing biological agents in the cuttings phase. The predators are given high-quality supplementary food so that they can form a strong population or a “standing army” to nip the outbreak in the bud.
“The results that have been achieved this time are due to good coordination between two projects: the PPS Thrips project, in which we are looking for a good alternative supplementary food source, and the Green Challenges project, in which we are optimising the role of biodiversity in crop protection and achieving paradigm shifts,” says researcher Marjolein Kruidhof.
In chrysanthemum cultivation, there is usually only a short time window in which you can start using biological control, according to Kruidhof. “Also, the presence of chemical residues delays the growth of populations of natural predators,” she says.
The researchers experimented with a biological start using the predatory bug Orius. They ordered cuttings that were almost pesticide-free, rooted the cuttings themselves and added the bugs a few days before the plants went into the greenhouse. “A biological start is a real change in thinking,” says Kruidhof’s colleague Gerben Messelink. An important part of this strategy is the supplementary feeding, he stresses. “After a series of trials in which we compared different types of food, we ultimately went with Artemia, the cysts of the brine shrimp. This is a potentially good food source and has a long shelf life.”
Trials using Artemia as a feed supplement for predatory bugs had been carried out before but with only moderate results, he says. “The quality of the Artemia that is available on the market at present is good enough for feeding predators like Macrolophus in tomato but not for Orius.”
The researchers therefore got together with the University of Ghent to come up with a good quality food source. Meanwhile, the Israeli company Biobee had also started producing high-quality Artemia which the researchers were able to use in subsequent experiments.
The results exceeded expectations. The number of Orius rose substantially as a result of the supplementary feeding. Having started with fewer than one bug per cutting, by the end of the production phase the researchers were counting 40 bugs per plant. What’s more, the natural predator seemed to respond very well to the availability of food. “It turns out that they are highly mobile,” says Kruidhof. “This has potential because it allows you to manage your biological control better. Plus it means you will very likely be able to reuse the bugs. If you end up with 40 bugs per plant, it would be a shame to spray them dead. That’s destruction of capital. You might be able to lure the adult specimens to new cuttings with targeted supplementary feeding.”
More effective than predatory mites
The impact on thrips damage was significant. “In the control section, in which no Orius or Artemia were used, half the younger leaves were damaged by thrips,” says Kruidhof. “The figure for the plants with the bugs was less than two percent.” The predatory mites did less well than the predatory bugs in terms of thrips control, despite the fact that they had built up a good population with the chosen food source. Researchers still found about 20 to 25% thrips damage on plants following the use of these biological predators. “So Orius really are more effective than predatory mites because they also attack adult thrips,” says Messelink.
“We have proved that the system works,” says Kruidhof. “We can build up the population of bugs by using biological controls and good quality nutrition right from the start, and this population provides good thrips control even in the presence of another food source.” However. that doesn’t mean that this method can simply be replicated in the commercial greenhouse setting. “We still need to optimise certain aspects,” she says. “For example: when is the best time to introduce the bugs? Should they be used in the rooting phase or can they be brought in later? How many bugs should you use? What will your feeding strategy be? How much food should you provide?”
This method of control is based on one generalist. What do you do as a grower if you also have to deal with leaf miner or aphids? “Growers will have to control leaf miner with additional biological measures or selective chemicals. Aphid control can become a problem, but the expectation is that high densities of this predatory bug will also keep aphids under control. Other possibilities for controlling aphids are parasitic wasps, gall midges or perhaps other predatory bugs. We therefore want to investigate whether other types of bugs can be combined with Orius to deal with aphids.”
Crop protection specialist Helma Verberkt of the Dutch growers’ organisation LTO Glaskracht sees this as an excellent development. “It is a good addition to developments in the commercial greenhouse setting, where good results have been obtained in recent years using predatory mites,” she says. “For use in practice, there will need to be enough affordable, good quality Artemia available and it is important to ensure that Orius is compatible with other biological agents and pesticides used.”
The question is also whether cutting suppliers and producers will be willing to come on board. Cuttings with few or no crop protection product residues are currently hard to find. “It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, but I think we will manage,” says Messelink. “There’s also a real change in thinking going on among cutting suppliers. More and more growers want to start biological control earlier and are asking for cuttings with fewer or no chemical residues. Cutting suppliers are also looking for alternative options. I think biological control is the solution.”
“We have shown that it works now, and that is quite a breakthrough,” Kruidhof adds. “We plan to carry out another greenhouse trial this year and we expect growers themselves to start developing the strategy further as well. As a result, the market for pesticide-free cuttings will only get bigger and more demand-driven. So producers and suppliers will have to meet that demand.”
Both projects are funded through the Top Sector Horticulture & Propagating Materials and are being implemented within this sector with funding from the government, various crop cooperatives and Koppert. The projects are coordinated by LTO Glaskracht Nederland.
Researchers in the Netherlands have made a breakthrough in controlling thrips in chrysanthemums. By starting biological control early on and providing good quality nutrition, it is possible to build up a good population of the predatory bug Orius. This population controls infestations well, even in the presence of food.
Text and images: Marjolein van Woerkom.