Biological Control and Organic Production

Many people equate biological control with organic farming and gardening. This misconception has resulted in numerous queries to MBCN for general information on organic production, or specific information on non-biological controls acceptable in organic production. While biological control plays an important role in organic production, the two are actually quite separate concepts.

Biological control, as we define it at MBCN, is the planned use of living predators, parasitic insects, pathogens, and competing and antagonistic organisms, collectively called beneficial natural enemies, to suppress pest populations and thereby reduce the amount of injury caused by pests. Biological control is (or should be) just as important in conventional and sustainable agriculture as it is in organic production. It is true that organic producers are sometimes more knowledgeable about biological controls because they are more restricted as to their pest management options and often rely more on non-chemical approaches. But increasing numbers of conventional farmers and gardeners are also using biological controls.

Organic production encompasses all production practices, not just pest management. This is somewhat of an oversimplification, but organic production is based on practices that do not use synthetic chemicals (pesticides, fertilizers, and other agrochemicals) unless those chemicals are composed of natural products, largely unaltered extractions from plants, animals, microbes, or minerals. Therefore, selected chemical pesticides, such as pyrethrum and rotenone, are generally accepted for use in organic production. In an earlier issue of MBCN I summarized the main approaches to insect control as being chemical, biological, cultural, physical, mechanical and host plant resistance. All of these approaches are used in organic production, just as they are in conventional farming and gardening.

Organic growers, as do conventional growers, have different attitudes toward pest management. Some prefer to use no chemicals, even those that are approved. Others seek the most efficacious, economical, and easiest pest management approaches and are quite willing to base their program on the use of approved pesticides.

MBCN will continue to be a newsletter devoted to the use of biological controls in all areas of farming, gardening, and insect management. It is not our intent to be a source of information on all aspects of organic production; several newsletters and magazines already exist to serve that need.

- Dan Mahr, Project Director University of Wisconsin - Madison

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