Research and development
Research and development is a critical part of any business and also encompasses quality control. Our R&D program and quality control procedures are overseen by Terril Marais.
Terril studied applied entomology at Massey and Auckland Universities in NZ, and later completed a post grad paper in applied IPM in Protected Crops at Wageningen University Holland studying under Prof Joop van Lenteren. Afterwards she worked as the IPM advisory officer for the Fresh Tomato Sector in NZ before joining a privately owned biocontrol producer, as their technical support person consulting for greenhouse crops such as tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants, cucumbers, cymbidium orchids, roses, ornamentals, and outdoor crops such as strawberry mother production and hops. Terril ran her own biological control production company Zonda Resources Ltd in NZ for 10 years producing a range of biological control agents and bumble bees before joining Biological Services in 2013.
Research and development is an ongoing daily process in our business. We are constantly reviewing procedures for all the organisms we produce. This may be as simple as adjusting temperatures or humidity to suit seasonal conditions, or trialling new plants or diets for the prey cultures.
The launching of a new biocontrol organism for commercial mass release into growers crops is a much more complicated process.
Investigation into a new biocontrol product commences with:
- Identifying a key pest problem. The pest and the crops it infests need to be extensive enough to warrant further research.
- Search literature and contact local/overseas colleagues to determine if there are any predators or parasites with potential to attack the pest.
- Do the biocontrol agents already exist in our country?
- Can these organisms exert enough control to be worthwhile rearing?
- Can they be reared in enough quantity on a regular basis to be commercially viable?
- Is the grower’s crop profitable enough to warrant the cost of rearing and regular releases?
- What other pests affect the crops targeted? Are there viable IPM compatible controls for those pests?
- Do we have support of the growers, industry and collaborative research organisations?
- What facilities and capital resources will be required to proceed?
If all of these considerations (and more) are satisfied the complicated tasks of initiating cultures might commence. If the new organisms can be successfully reared, R&D then needs to develop techniques for the following:
- How are the biocontrols harvested?
- How do you separate the beneficials from the pest or prey species?
- How is the product to be packaged and shipped so they arrive in good condition?
- How does the grower release the product into the crop?
Unfortunately every individual organism requires different techniques. From initial investigations to the point where in-field trials might commence generally takes 2-5 years. If initial field trials are promising and the organism can be reared and handled successfully, another 1-3 years could elapse before a commercial product is ready for market.
1. Nesidiocoris tenuis for greenhouse whitefly control in tomato and eggplant
Nesidiocoris tenuis samples were first collected in March 2013 and the first trials commenced in September 2013. Commercial releases were made from April 2014 onwards.
Nesidiocoris tenuis adult and nymph feeding on greenhouse whitefly nymphs.
2. Diadegma semiclausum for cabbage moth control
The rearing of Diadegma semiclausum started in 2011 with trials being run over spring 2012 and 2013.
This program was initiated and developed by IPM Technologies, Victoria in conjunction with Biological Services, Bayer and Sumitomo to try to reduce constant exposure of chemicals to cabbage moth populations and therefore lower the possibilities of rapid pesticide resistance developing.
Early and late instar Plutella xylostella (cabbage moth or diamond back moth) larvae on a brassica leaf. Note the characteristic “window like” feeding damage.
Female Diadegma semiclausum and a Plutella xylostella (cabbage moth or diamond back moth) larvae on a brassica leaf.
3. Packaging machinery
Our products are alive. They need to breathe, and during transit need to be kept cool so they arrive in good condition. Over several years we have been working on finding containers that can retain humidity, but allow air exchange particularly for our predatory mite products. We also want ease of distribution once growers receive the product and to hopefully speed up the packaging process by automating the packaging line. We have recently commissioned some machinery to automatically fill and cap cylinders. We are also working on techniques to rear the predators in higher concentrations. If successful this will allow us to deliver more predators in smaller parcels and reduce the costs of freight. Trials are continuing and hopefully this packaging will be ready for launch in July 2015.
4. Quality Control (QC)
Due to the importance we place on quality control, we have one person employed full time to check cultures on a weekly basis and to assist Terril in other research projects. All of our products are checked weekly to determine culture concentrations and purity. IOBC guidelines for product quality are used as a starting point for our internal QC, and regular experiments are conducted to strive for better rearing systems. QC plays an important role in assessing the R&D experiments.