Marijuana Business Magazine March 2020
Marijuana Business Magazine | March 2020 16 C annabis is often touted as a self-sustaining crop that doesn’t need pest protection. Yet in 2019, outdoor hemp farmers saw heavy disease and pest pressure. As planting season approaches for outdoor hemp and marijuana, cultivators need viable solutions for pest control. That’s where biological controls (biocontrols) come in—more specifically, beneficial insects and biological control agents (BCAs), the “good bugs” that provide an ongoing line of defense against “bad bugs” and diseases. Many cannabis producers already use biocontrols in indoor grows. But with conventional farmers entering the hemp market and marijuana and hemp crops growing outdoors—often near row crops farmed with chemical inputs—there is a broader need for research and education about the role of biocontrols in sustainable production. Supply and Demand During the 2010s, the agricultural use of beneficials and BCAs ramped up significantly—especially among specialty crop producers—as entire chemical classes were taken out of production and more pesticides continued to be targeted. Glyphosate (the herbicide commonly known as Roundup), for example, is increasingly avoided because of potential effects on human health, while neonicoti- noids have been implicated in bee decline. As consumers increasingly demand sustainably and organically produced crops, conventional farming is becoming less, well, conventional. The same applies in cannabis, though for different reasons. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cannot approve products for use on marijuana, as the crop is still not fed- erally legal. However, the legalization of hemp has allowed the agency to issue guidance on safe hemp farming products. In December, the EPA registered 10 pesticides for hemp production, and nine of them were biological products approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute. Because cannabis users increasingly demand sustainably and organically produced marijuana, we can safely assume this same preference will extend to hemp and CBD products. The increased use of sustainable and organic growing practices means insectaries have a tough time keeping up with demand for beneficial insects and BCAs. Insectaries require several weeks of lead time to rear the insects and ship them to producers. Planning ahead is critical for developing a successful pest-control program, according to Ronald Valentin, director of technical business for BioWorks, a New York-based biocontrols supplier. Start Clean, Stay Clean Seedlings and clones should be started in living soil with early application of biological controls and beneficial insects. Plants that don’t get a clean start will have trouble establishing beneficial insect and BCA populations when transplanted to the indoor grow or the field. Further, good sanitation practices while establishing young plants (seedlings and clones) and transplanting crops into the field or greenhouse will go a long way toward plant health throughout the crop cycle. Biological Controls Offer Sustainable Benefits Trends & HotTopics | Laura Drotleff As consumers increasingly demand sustainably and organically produced crops, conventional farming is becoming less, well, conventional.