Our founding entomologist Everett “Deke” Dietrick died on December 23 at age 88. For over 40 years he mentored many who went on to build successful careers and businesses promoting biocontrol and sustainable agriculture. He did biocontrol research for the University of California, quit when the funding ran out (with a family of five small children including me), and began selling advice as well as growing and selling good bugs. He pioneered both the practice of ecologically based pest management and the insectary industry helping people at all stages on the path away from CCC (conventional chemical control) towards BC by NE (biological control by natural enemies).
Sometimes called the “Father of Commercial Biocontrol”, Deke inspired field advisors to identify markets and insectary teams working for Rincon-Vitova Insectaries, Inc. to innovate mass production systems for beneficials. The goal was often to jumpstart the predators and parasites on vulnerable farms in transition and sometimes to combat a key pest. However, in many situations the main value of the beneficials was to keep farmers from killing them with pesticides. By including releases with monitoring and forecasting, he helped many farmers in over 50 crops in many countries get off of the ‘pesticide treadmill’. He helped entrepreneurs to sell biocontrol in Central America and the Mexican government to establish its network of insectaries. How his work inspired the development of the Soviet biofactories in the Amu-Darya cotton belt is a story in itself. He started D-Vac Company as a separate break-even family business to provide an international scientific standard for sampling arthropods and a tool for applied insect ecologists.
Highly regarded not just by biocontrol researchers and a counter-culture movement of farmers rediscovering organic methods, he was also honored by professionals in the Association of Applied IPM Ecologists that he helped found, and by business people in the Association of Natural Bio-Control Producers. The latter serves the industry that Deke encouraged through decades of sharing of insights and encouragement and watching employees learn, leave and start their own businesses. The insectary business was an economically independent outlet for demonstrating the value of biocontrol. Dietrick saw the Fillmore Insectary, a regional cooperative, as a more sustainable model for providing biocontrol resources to farmers.
Unlike Robert van den Bosch who published an exposé The Pesticide Conspiracy and Don Dahlston who spoke at public hearings against the malathion bait sprays for Medfly, Dietrick kept a lower profile, concerned about risking an attack on the business. He did spend hours with activists, teaching them enough to ask penetrating questions and speak out. “They were burning the books on biocontrol” was his description of the powerful influence of the pesticide industry. He said that he did what he did because there was nobody else who could do it. He also maintained that he only did things that were fun. Deke’s memoirs (to be published) tell about the mentors who prepared him for this role and the challenges he faced. More by and about him is available at dietrick obituary at rinconvitova.com.
Wearing his trademark white canvas hat shading his twinkling eyes, he was a familiar figure at the Ventura Farmer’s Market and was appreciated by so many around town for his engaging spirit. Contributions in his memory can be sent to the Dietrick Institute for Applied Insect Ecology, PO Box 2506, Ventura, CA 93002 to help edit videos of him teaching in the field. A 501c3 non-profit organization, the institute http://www.dietrick.org offers training in ecologically based pest management in recognition of what a legend he is within our field.