Hydroponic growing comes in all shapes and sizes, but no matter the scale or type of your operation, there’s one thing we all deal with: Pests and diseases. These threats are likely the largest cause of economic loss for farmers. It’s not a matter of if you’re going to deal with them. It’s a matter of when.
Pest management should be integrated into your daily operations. It’s not something that requires action after pests or disease are spotted. It’s a constant process, and we hope these tips help!
If you prefer to watch a video, here’s a link to a recorded webinar where you can listen to our VP Joe Swartz share a more in-depth version.
Seven Principles of Integrated Pest Management
The first step is the most important. You must do everything you can to keep pests and disease away from your plants in the first place. This involves placing screening material over all vents, making sure access doors seal properly, and setting hygiene guidelines for everyone who enters. We recommend foot baths, exclusive clothing, limiting visitors, and absolutely no foreign plant material!
02. Cultural Practices
The way you run your greenhouse matters. Optimizing environmental control and proper nutrition will help your plants help themselves. You should also keep a clean greenhouse, as dirt and debris buildup can be a vector for pests. Scouting is important here too. Every member of your team should be trained on constant visual inspection. We also recommend making a regular practice of introducing pest control or predators into the environment. More on that later.
Inside the greenhouse or growing space, you can add an additional line of defense using tools like sticky cards to catch flies, or pheromone lures.
Despite all your best efforts, someday you may notice something is off. It’s important to develop expertise to visually identify exactly what is going on. If you don’t have that expertise yourself, seek it out when you notice something unusual. AmHydro’s experts are happy to help you here, or to direct you toward other experts that we work with.
05. Aggressive Removal
One of the most common mistakes is to choose to wait and hope the problem goes away. We know the pain of having to lose potential profit because of infection, but it is important to be judicious. Be prepared to quickly cut your losses by removing infected plant material. In most cases, you aren’t going to be able to reverse the issue. You will not be able to sell those plants anyway.
Depending on the issue and on your growing practices, there are a huge variety of treatments. It isn’t always necessary to use pesticides, and we, with many of our customers, grow plants pesticide-free. You can learn more about how we do that here. (https://amhydro.com/pesticide-free-pest-control-webinar-replay-transcription/). Other treatments can involve the introduction of predators, including friendly insects or bacterias, or the introduction of other biological agents.
07. Follow Up
Even after the correct treatment is introduced, the problem won’t go away all at once. The issue will be minimized gradually, but without vigilance, there is potential for flare ups. We say “Integrated Pest Management” because these principles must be a part of your regular greenhouse management. In the aftermath of an outbreak, you need to go right back to the top of the list.
To summarize, we want to share our golden rule of Controlled Environment Agriculture: You, as a grower, need to spend time on a daily basis with your crops.
There’s a lot of great sensors and tools that automate steps of production and even allow you to observe your plants remotely. But there will never be a substitute for being in the space, observing and knowing what’s going on.
Good luck in your battles against pests and disease, and let us know if you have any questions on the subject!