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Pirate Bugs: The Superheroes of Arava Farms


Environment  (tags: GOOD NEWS, Israel, pest control, no pesticides )

Beth
- 411 days ago - israel21c.org
Predatory wasps and other beneficial insects are taking over for chemical pesticides on many crops grown in Israel's fertile desert.



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Beth S. (315)
Thursday February 28, 2013, 8:32 am
Meet the superheroes of the insect world: “pirate bugs” that feast on thrips, aphids and other tiny pests that destroy and infect food crops.

Single-mindedly devoted to their mission, these beneficial predators have allowed Israeli farmers in the Arava region of the Negev Desert – where 60 percent of Israel’s fresh vegetable exports originate – to cut their use of chemical pesticides by about 80%.

Nearly every one of the 120 farmers in the Arava’s Moshav Ein-Yahav, one of the largest farming villages in Israel, uses this form of biological pest control, a.k.a. integrated pest management (IPM). Ein-Yahav collectively produces about 34,000 tons of peppers, watermelons, melons, tomatoes and other vegetables in protected greenhouses, net houses and tunnels. Half are exported.

“We usually use natural enemies to eat insects that cause damage, and if we do spray it’s only on a small scale for the one or two plants with high infestation,” says Rami Sadeh, a farmer and staff agronomist at Yofi Shel Yerakot (Beauty of Vegetables), the company that markets most of Ein-Yahav’s produce along with citrus fruit, lettuce, cabbage, carrots and potatoes grown elsewhere in Israel.

“It costs us more money per dunam, but we can sleep well knowing we are not using chemicals,” the father of four tells ISRAEL21c.

‘Salting’ leaves with beneficial bugs

Sadeh began planting his melons, peppers and eggplants four years ago using this method of pest control, which was pioneered in Israel about a decade ago at Bio-Bee Biological Systems at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu. Today, a similar company at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai also raises and sells predatory insects for agriculture.

“It took farmers time to see that this technique works and they can rely on it,” says Sadeh, a former chemical company employee. “I started using it immediately because I knew it works. For me and for my children it’s safer, and of course for the consumer.”

His description of how the pirate bugs do their job is almost gruesome, but this is nature at its best.

Take, for example, the parasitic wasp whose one mission in life is killing aphids, the much-hated “plant lice” that destructively suck the sap from crops.

“The predatory wasps lay their eggs in the body of the aphid and the larva grows inside the aphid and kills it,” Sadeh explains. “From the dead body of the aphid, the egg hatches with a new wasp.”

Beauty of Vegetables member farmers also use three other predators — the Orius laevigatus that vanquishes thrips, and the swirskii and persimilis mites that eat up other harmful bugs. (Swirskii is named for the Israeli researcher who discovered it 20 years ago).

“Usually in the Arava our biggest crop is peppers, mostly for export,” Sadeh says. Thrips, the main scourge of the pepper crop, get into the plants’ flowers and harm the developing fruit, and they also spread plant viruses. Until the predatory wasps were available to farmers, they had to resort to toxic pesticides to keep the aphids from destroying the peppers.

Packaged like salt or pepper, the helpful bugs get sprinkled “like you’d salt your sandwich” on the vegetable plant leaves. None of these insects harms the host plant.

Clearing the soil of germs

Ein-Yavav farmers grow nothing in open fields and also use several other methods to keep their produce as free as possible of bugs and bacteria, Sadeh adds.

“Godzilla,” a Moshav Ein-Yahav green pepper grown without chemical pesticides, made the Guinness World Records registry.

“Godzilla,” a Moshav Ein-Yahav green pepper grown without chemical pesticides, made the Guinness World Records registry.

To make sure that no bug or no pesticide residues hitch a ride on the vegetables to market, the picked produce gets a thorough bath, and representative samples are checked using sophisticated lab equipment.

“We have a lot of unique things here,” says Sadeh, whose name aptly means “field.”

“For example, we have one month during summer when it is not allowed to grow anything in your plot, in order to make a vacuum – if there are no plants, the insects die off. Then, when you plant in August, you start the season without insects and without any need to spray.”

This annual rest period also protects against soil disease. “We cover the soil with plastic during this time, and the sun’s heat takes the temperature up to 50 to 60 degrees [Celsius] and it kills any fungus that causes diseases,” says Sadeh. “This is done almost only in the Arava.”
 

Teresa W. (626)
Thursday February 28, 2013, 8:35 am
noted, thank you
 

Patricia Martin (19)
Thursday February 28, 2013, 8:46 am
Wouldn't it be wonderful if insects used to control crop eating pests could be deployed everywhere rather than poisons? Huge improvements for the environment, wildlife and people!!!
 

Suheyla C. (233)
Thursday February 28, 2013, 2:01 pm
A great invention. My mother was also a farmer. This is a useful article for the farmers.
 

Allan Yorkowitz (458)
Thursday February 28, 2013, 2:30 pm
Once again, Israel shows the world what can be done.
 

Stan B. (124)
Thursday February 28, 2013, 6:37 pm
Fantastic news thanks, Beth. Anything which means we ingest less chemicals is a major step forward.
 

Carol Dreeszen (368)
Thursday February 28, 2013, 9:49 pm
This is WONDERFUL!!!I wish I had some of those bugs here if and when I can ever grow another garden!!
 

Rob and Jay B. (122)
Thursday February 28, 2013, 11:05 pm
What a better way than using all those toxic pesticides! Anything to clean up the planet is a good thing, and it seems that Israeli scientists are leading the way in so many ways.
 

Carola May (20)
Thursday February 28, 2013, 11:06 pm
Excellent!
 

Giana Peranio Paz (367)
Friday March 1, 2013, 2:56 am
One more good point for Israel!
 

Madhu Pillai (21)
Friday March 1, 2013, 6:21 am
Noted and tweeted, thanks for this article.
 

Holly Lawrence (473)
Friday March 1, 2013, 9:31 am
Wonderful! Do wish this could be done everywhere ..Great article - thank YOU!
 

June M. (96)
Friday March 1, 2013, 9:41 am
thanks for sharing Beth
 

Kath P. (10)
Friday March 1, 2013, 9:53 am
If we stopped spraying everything and let nature get back to work we'd all be much happier and healthier.
 

Past Member (0)
Friday March 1, 2013, 10:36 am
Cool
 

Kerrie G. (135)
Friday March 1, 2013, 10:46 am
Noted, thanks.
 

Kirsten Taufer (43)
Friday March 1, 2013, 2:18 pm
Brilliant! Also THE ONLY way to deal with infestations in your home garden....
 

Birgit W. (135)
Friday March 1, 2013, 4:24 pm
Noted
 

Aletta Kraan (146)
Friday March 1, 2013, 4:33 pm
Wonderful, thanks for sharing !
 

Winn Adams (179)
Friday March 1, 2013, 4:57 pm
Wonderful Thanks!
 

Anne K. (125)
Friday March 1, 2013, 6:45 pm
I worked for an entomology professor at a UF ag research farm. Despite the presence of pirate bugs and other predatory ("beneficial") insects, there was still significant insect damage to crops. I work at an organic farm now, and although I am pro-organic and anti-pesticide, the fact is there is so much loss due to "pests", such as army worms, stink bugs, whiteflies (which transmit virus to tomatoes) and other insects. Unfortunately, beneficial insects and OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved products do not adequately protect crops, at least not here in Florida.
 

Gail Lopez (65)
Friday March 1, 2013, 7:29 pm
We periodically reintroduce ladybugs and beneficial nematodes to our area to keep the flea, tick, etc. populations at bay. Nature, our best line of defense! Thank you!
 

greenplanet e. (157)
Saturday March 2, 2013, 4:02 pm
Better than chemicals. Nature knows how to keep things in balance.
 

Beth S. (315)
Saturday March 2, 2013, 8:45 pm
Anne K.

Thank you for sharing your expertise on this matter. I guess anywhere human behavior and the inescapable change that comes along with it will mess with the natural environment and change the homeostasis it had established for itself. I wish there were natural, 100% effective (or even 90%) ways to work it, but I guess we have to keep trying, with incremental gains.
 
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