Interview with Professor José Roberto Postali Parra
José Roberto Postali Parra, Professor of the Department of Entomology and Acarology of the “Luiz de Queiroz” School of Agriculture (Esalq / USP), is one of the world's leading experts in biological control, with four decades of experience. In this interview, Parra will present an overview of how integrated pest management (IPM) is being conducted in Brazil and the rest of the world, as well as his predictions for the next few years.
What developments will occur in the use of biological control in Brazil and the rest of the world?
There is global enthusiasm surrounding sustainable agriculture. The use of biological control, which is a component of this system, has been increasing globally by 10% to 15% per year. In Brazil, especially with regards to micro-organisms, such as fungi, viruses and bacteria, this figure is even higher than the rest of the world. However, there are many agricultural challenges that need to be solved related to large sections of production systems, considering a culture of agrochemical use among Brazilian farmers. With regards to macro-organisms, the availability of biological inputs is still a major problem, along with the lack of technology transfer methods to farmers who are not familiar with biologicals.
Integrated pest and disease management methods are gaining popularity. What is left to be used more?
IPM (Integrated Pest Management) is the ideal pest control philosophy. However, in many cases, it is still theoretical, and as the Americans say, “there is very little ‘I’ in Integrated Pest Management.” In other words, there are few integration processes used in practice. In Australia, excellent results have been obtained on cotton. In Brazil, IPM is based, in most cases, on controlling economic damage caused by pests, sometimes through using pheromones, rotating agrochemical active ingredients, and planting genetically modified plants, and other time through using selective products. Citrus cultivation has a good IPM program for HLB (Greening) control, although it uses a lot of insecticides on commercial areas.
What are the biggest obstacles facing the use of biologicals by Brazilian farmers?
There are still few companies with quality products on their portfolios, especially macro-organisms. For micro-organisms, the situation is better, because of their greater similarity to agrochemicals more commonly used by farmers, and also because they are easier to produce and have a so-called “shelf time” unlike macro-organisms, which need to be used straight after the emergence of natural enemies.
Other problems, such as monitoring and clearing large crop areas, have been solved using drones and airplanes and other modern methods of pest monitoring. Critical mass in the field of biological control is still small for new inter and multidisciplinary programs. Storage and transportation logistics, considering the country's large expanses, is another serious problem, which will only improve by supporting companies that produce biological inputs.
However, the use of agrochemicals on crops by farmers will still continue as there is a lack of available alternatives, which requires the emergence of new companies dedicated to the formulation of micro-organisms and the automated production of macro-organisms. I can see a promising future for biological control if these obstacles are overcome.
What are the new natural enemies?
This is a different area, as no new biological control agents are being used, despite our rich biodiversity. A biological control center is about to be launched at the Luiz de Queiroz School of Agriculture (Esalq/USP), in conjunction with Koppert and Fapesp (the São Paulo State Science Support Foundation), to find new research agents.
Researchers should be encouraged because developing biological products can be time-consuming and their availability to farmers depends on inter and multidisciplinary actions. Trichogramma galloi, now used on over 2 million hectares of crops to control Diatraea saccharalis, was developed in 1984 but was released to farmers in 2000.
How do we ideally control pests and diseases in tropical agriculture, while having a lower impact on the environment and health?
Through integrated pest management, which is a set of measures that will keep pests below the economic damage level, while taking into account economic, ecological and social considerations. There are some myths surrounding biological control, one is that it should solve pest issues in isolation. However, most of the time, it should be considered a component of IPM.
What can we learn from biological control methods developed in other countries?
In terms of large areas, we have very little to learn, as good results have been obtained in greenhouses. Our challenge is to develop a biological control model for tropical regions, as we have done with our overall agriculture over the last 40 years. Without being pretentious, it is logical to think that there is always something to learn, and many basics have been developed in partnership with leading universities from around the world, but the most applied aspects should be developed by our researchers, appropriate to our situation.