In amongst our rows of pepper plants, there are millions of small but hugely significant insects and mites hard at work - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Without these, we simply would not get the peppers!

How insect workers help protect our crops

Sweet peppers grown in glasshouses are at risk to a wide range of pests that feed on the leaves or fruits and are attracted to the warm, humid conditions.

Protecting crops is essential for any grower or farmer and ‘biological control’ forms a key part of our Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Using beneficial insects and mites to fight off pests in a crop is a technique first introduced in 1967. There’s been considerable progress in bio-control measures over the years. Today, growers have a number of environmentally friendly methods to help look after their crops, which also allow naturally occurring insects to enter the glasshouses and get to work.

Striking a balance

We’ve been developing our IPM strategy since we started growing sweet peppers at Tangmere. One clever and revolutionary technique known as ‘pest in first’ is highly effective in our control of red spider mite.

Technical Crops Manager, Mark Knight explains: “Introducing the pest into the crop was unnerving; it requires something of a leap of faith the first time you do it. I had spent 10 years trying to eradicate the red spider mite and now I was introducing it.”

Many beneficial insects can live happily in the crop without the pest being present. However, others such as Phytoseiulus the predator of red spider mite are unable to. We introduce the red spider mite early on in the season (in late February) when the days are short and not too warm. This means the pest numbers will not develop too quickly and Phytoseiulus can be introduced onto the plants in a carefully managed way (from early March).

“There comes a point in the season when you’ve achieved a natural balance, the pest and predator are established and the crop is protected. This all happens before there’s any real pressure from naturally occurring red spider mite, and when it does enter the crop our army of insects is there ready and waiting for it.”

Watch as Mark applies red spider mite in the pepper crop.

 

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