Posts Tagged 'The Pesticide Conspiracy'

Our Vision for Successful Sustainable Pest Management – Part 1: The Centrality of Insect Biodiversity 

by Ron Whitehurst, PCA, with Jan Dietrick, MPH, Co-owners Rincon-Vitova Insectaries, Inc.

Everett J. “Deke” Dietrick
Robert van den Bosch

Appreciation to Deke & Van

We draw on what we learned from our mentor, Jan’s father, Everett J. “Deke” Dietrick, and Robert “Van” van den Bosch who dedicated their lives to biological control of pests, as we envision how SPM can work

In his memoirs Deke wrote: “There were such political challenges to carrying out the research I was doing to promote biological control by natural enemies that at this critical juncture in 1960 when modern organic chemistry was leading the “war on bugs”, I saw an opportunity to start a professional consulting service that sold pest management based on biological control. Having spent 15 years in classical biological control research, I was ready to try to reach growers with the news that biological methods are better than chemical methods.”  

Van summed it up: “The evolution of a rational pest-control strategy very much depends upon the outcome of this conflict…between those who are seeking change and those who want things to remain as they are.” From The Pesticide Conspiracy (1978) p. 91.

Part 1 – The Centrality of Insect Biodiversity

I am honored to have the opportunity to serve on the Sustainable Pest Management (SPM) Work Group advising the California Department of Pesticide Regulation on the development of a Roadmap to transition away from reliance on toxic pesticides. The group has 25 members. There are a few people like me who manage pests without chemical pesticides. There are also several experts in Integrated Pest Management, several who struggle with the idea of losing access to chemical pesticides, several representing farmworkers and a couple representatives of indigenous stakeholders, in this case Pomo Indians and another tribe, as well as toxicology exposure scientists, biodiversity and food protectors, and Houston Wilson, Director of the new University of California Organic Agriculture Institute. 

Good news! After well over a year of meetings, the consensus Roadmap is starting to come together. Meanwhile I have been collecting more ideas from friends about what it needs to be successful. Thanks to 22 friends who took time to give me some feedback, we have a great collection of important ideas that I’m forwarding to the SPM Work Group. Entomologists (professors and researchers) shared what I believe are the most important ideas. Four of them teach biological control to Pest Control Advisors (PCAs) and have a lot to say! Several PCAs and consulting agroecologists shared insights. The thoughts from organic farmer and field research friends Phil McGrath, Larry Jacobs, Steve Sprinkle, and Arianna Bozzolo of Rodale Institute confirm what we know to be true about the benefits and that farmers need help. I’m especially grateful to Annemiek Schilder at the Ventura County UC Cooperative Extension; Jo Ann Baumgartner, Director of Wild Farm Alliance; Daniel Gluesenkamp, Executive Director, California Institute for Biodiversity; and Nik Bertulis, Co-Founder California Center for Natural History, also a Permaculture Designer and Teacher, for their detailed suggestions. If you want to see the discussion draft or just have thoughts about what’s in this blog, let me know.

Out of the gate, my biological control friends agree that Sustainable Pest Management or SPM is a big step up from Integrated Pest management or IPM because it aims for long-term prevention of pests and their damage in a framework of increasing biodiversity. It is achieved by conservation biological control (including habitat enhancement and adjustments in cultural practices) as well as consideration of mechanical controls and use of resistant plant varieties. Chemical pesticides are used ONLY when other methods aren’t adequately managing pest populations. Definitions are critically important, which I’ll post about next. The Roadmap is easier to navigate when we understand what others are talking about! 

Our biological control sector lifts up the importance of increasing biodiversity–not just because it is the way to wean off of toxic pesticides–but also because we want the Roadmap to offer a positive vision of increasingly biodiverse farming systems that are more resilient with fewer problems and less costly inputs. This is what agroecology looks like. 

Experts in agroecology and biological control agree that the goal of the Roadmap is to move along a biodiversity continuum with metrics and targets for both below and above ground biodiversity. Jo Ann Baumgartner has already been traveling this road more on the above-ground level. Check out the publications by the Wild Farm Alliance that help organic farmers comply with the USDA National Organic Standards. The organic law requires that organic farms “foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” Jo Ann published Positive Organic Indicators and Red Flags–Inspecting for Natural Resources and Biodiversity on Farms to standardize concepts for increasing compliance with the organic standard. Her work is expandable beyond organic to SPM. Another Wild Farm Alliance publication How to Conserve Biodiversity on the Farm: Actions to Take on a Continuum from Simple to Complex suggests what we know from science, that with complexity there is more biological control of pests. I plan on diving dive into this in my seventh post in this series. 

Organic farmers are leading the way to SPM. Every crop in California can be grown organically without artificial toxic inputs. Organic and especially regenerative organic farms have greater resilience to drought and floods and tend to reduce and sometimes nearly eliminate the need for costly fertilizer and pest control. Weeding, mulching, and the possible need for on-farm composting can require more labor. The farmer might need new types of equipment and inputs to build healthier soil and suppress pests, but before long the farm is more profitable and the benefits become evident. The first couple or three seasons building biological balance might keep the farmer awake at night, but, the way one of our customers put it, “Farming is fun again when I left the spray rig in the barn.”  For most organic farms, the focus is on increasing biodiversity within the root zone of the crop plants and then learning what kinds of above-ground biodiversity fit with the cropping system and meet the particular goals. 

The first idea from a few friends was about the necessity for regular landscape scale biodiversity monitoring as part of the principles and practice of agroecology. As Daniel Gluesenkamp, Director of California Institute for Biodiversity (CIB) explains, “We currently don’t even have a baseline inventory for insects. We don’t know how many insect species occur in California, maybe 50,000 to 200,000 with only 40,000 to 60,000 having been described by science.  We have no maps or good site-specific characterizations. We are blind. There are technical challenges in catching/viewing insects, especially the many tiny forms.”  We also need to know the negative impacts that affect non-target vertebrate species–insectivorous birds, birds of prey, amphibians, fish, and predatory mammals that is documented in this film: The great death of insects | DW Documentary. . We want a robust monitoring program rolling out in 2023. Numeric goals and target dates for establishing baselines and databases and monitoring infrastructure must be a top priority in the Roadmap.

CIB is doing DNA barcoding to establish baselines for insects and the Dietrick Institute for Applied Insect Ecology specializes in training women, farmworkers, and students in monitoring insect populations where farmers have installed habitat enhancements for natural enemies. The California Center for Natural History can pilot and train teachers and NGOs to organize citizen scientists to help count non-target animal species. Getting baselines is a costly initial undertaking, whereas the on-going monitoring will not be expensive. What areas need the most help? How well are we restoring biodiversity in priority regions? How does that correlate with pest pressures?

From United Nations Environment Programme, Foresight Brief No. 011, 2019, 
We are “Losing the Little Things that Run the World”

This important work to inventory California’s insects builds on my father-in-law, Everett (Deke) Dietrick’s work with Robert van den Bosch from 1953 to 1960 in the University of California Department of Biological Control cataloging all the insects in an alfalfa field using sweep nets, vacuum nets, and soil/duff samples. Dr. van den Bosch and Everett Dietrick observed that most of the insects in California agriculture could be found in untreated perennial alfalfa fields.

Working on the SPM Roadmap gives me hope. I’m excited to share in upcoming posts more about what I’ve learned with the Work Group. My partner Jan Dietrick is helping me organize our ideas with the input from our friends into a series of articles on the following topics.    

Part 2: Defining how SPM actions relate to each other 

Part 3: Incentivize regenerative organic and ban disruptive chemical pesticides

Part 4: Biological control action levels–examples from the field

Part 5: Regional SPM focus with RCDs, field scouts, food hubs and insectaries

Part 6: New knowledge for pest prevention

Part 7: What has to be different for SPM? [Hint: life]

Part 8: Myths and truths about pest control

Part 9: SPM for city people



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