Keeping sustainability in mind while dealing with pests

A person is holding a plant with ladybugs on it.

Most, if not all, farms around the world deal with the same issue — pests. Where they differ is how they deal with the problem.   


Even though the doors are closed, pests are still an issue for Bayer's Marana greenhouse. In fact, they face unique challenges due to the controlled environment of the greenhouse. To help solve these issues, they deployed an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) method.    


The basis of IPM lies in preventing pests in an environmental-friendly way, before they get out of hand. The Marana site puts possible solutions in a pyramid model, with prevention being the largest section and making up the base. As the pest problem gets worse, the solutions move up the pyramid to the smaller sections of integrating biological and, lastly, chemical support.   


Prevention mainly surrounds the idea of education — not just for the IPM team but for everyone who interacts with the greenhouse. Team members need to know how cleaning their equipment, boots, and hands can stop pests from entering the greenhouse environment in the first place. Prevention also means being able to recognize a pest and communicating with someone who knows how to get rid of them.    


However, as pests and diseases are readily moving in and out of farms, prevention is rarely going to be the only active solution. The Marana team also uses a natural method of controlling pests by reintroducing local predators. Recently, they released hundreds of thousands of ladybugs who enjoy feasting on aphids, a common pest in the greenhouse.   


While the greenhouse must deal with pests just as any other farm does, they face a few extra challenges. A major difference from a traditional farm is that in the greenhouse, each plant is housed on a metal bench, which gets hot in the Arizona sun. On an outdoor farm, predators of pests could easily navigate from plant to plant. But in the greenhouse, the small mites have a difficult time traveling on the hot metal beds. To alleviate this, the greenhouse ingeniously selects larger species of predators that can fly or jump.  


In the end, controlling pests will always be an ongoing process and they will never be completely eradicated from the farm. The best any farmer can do is prevent and maintain a number of pests that still allow for a healthy harvest — and doing it in a way that actively accounts for the rest of the environment.