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Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Introduction to Pest Management

Pest management presents some unique challenges for specialty crops, including dealing with unfamiliar pests, a lack of registered control products and the need to rely on preventative and/or labour intensive cultural controls. It is therefore an important factor to consider when determining whether and how to grow a specialty crop. Unfortunately, pests are often overlooked until they are actually damaging the crop, at which time it is often too late. What follows are some important considerations when it comes to managing pests in a new crop.

1) Prepare for pests even if you don't see them at first.
Pests are often not a problem for the first few years of production of a new crop. Unfortunately, pest populations usually do build up to damaging levels eventually and it is important to be prepared to deal with them. The best way to prepare for pests in a new crop is to be proactive - use preventative strategies to avoid pests, scout regularly and be prepared to deal with arriving pests early.

2) Know your enemy.
It is impossible to predict all the possible pests of a new crop, but a little research can go a long way. Look up the major pests of the crop in the areas where it is traditionally produced. If these pests are also present in Ontario or have close relatives that are present here, it's a potential pest of your specialty crop. If the crop you want to grow is closely related to a crop already being grown in Ontario, you'll need to prepare for the possibility that pests of the conventional crop will also attack the new one.

3) Determine how much damage you can tolerate.
Some non-traditional crops can tolerate more pest pressure than the conventional crops you may be used to.

4) Know your pesticide options (or lack thereof) before you plant.
If you would like to rely on pesticides to control pests, it is important to determine what products are registered on the crop of interest before you plant it. Many non-traditional crops have very few registered products. For crops with few pesticides but serious pests, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of losing your entire acreage to pest damage. For example, at the Simcoe Research Station we lost a demonstration plot of fenugreek to a combination of disease and insect damage for which there were no registered controls. This is not always the case. Crops are put into groups for the purpose of pesticide registrations, and in some cases a product will be registered on an entire crop group. However, determining what products are registered on a given specialty crop can be very confusing to growers.

5) Non-chemical controls often require advance planning.
If there are no registered chemicals available and damage cannot be tolerated, then the only option will be various non-chemical methods of pest control. These techniques can effectively reduce pest populations in many situations; however they can be labour-intensive and costly. You will need to consider how much you are willing to spend on these techniques, ideally prior to planting. Additionally, many of these techniques are preventative, which means they will not be effective after you have found the pest in the crop.

6) Remember that cultivars can vary greatly in susceptibility to pests.
Consider pest resistance as a factor when selecting cultivars

7) Plan and budget for weed management.
Weed management is often one of the biggest production challenges associated with growing a specialty crop. Because there are often few herbicides registered, growers must rely on non-chemical methods of control, which can be time consuming and costly. As an example, a demonstration plot consisting of < ½ acres of non-traditional crops required approximately 24 man-hours per week of hand weeding and rototilling during peak weedy periods in June and July. Give careful consideration to how you will manage weeds, and how much this will increase your cost of production.

8) Once you have planted your new crop, be vigilant - don't forget to scout regularly.
Because pest problems typically develop eventually, it is important to regularly monitor a new crop, even if you don't see or even anticipate any pest problems. It goes without saying that pest problems are much more easily dealt with in the early stages. This is particularly true with a new crop, when you cannot be sure of all the pests that are likely to attack it or whether chemical controls will be available.

Management of pests in specialty crops requires planning, and relies on methods that are often preventative and can be costly. It is generally not a good idea to simply plant the crop and plan on dealing with pest problems if and when they appear. Instead, consider pest management in advance, as part of the decision making process when determining whether to grow a particular specialty crop.

In this resource, a number of sections are provided focused on pest control considerations for specialty crops. Topics covered include pest control products, scouting and diagnosis, non-chemical management, and some general information about the major groups of insects and diseases affecting specialty crops. Additionally, each profile provides lists of specific pests with the potential to be a problem in Ontario.