- Author: Surendra K. Dara
UC Cooperative Extension Advisor Surendra Dara organized a conference on biologicals that drew growers from California, other states, and outside the U.S. 95.7% of those surveyed plan to use information learned on nearly 70,000 acres which they farm, manage, and influence.
The term biologicals in agriculture refers to biocontrol agents such as parasitic wasps and predatory arthropods, microbial and botanical pesticides, biostimulants and other bio-based inputs used for pest management or improving crop health and productivity. The potential of many biologicals is not fully explored mainly because of the stigma that they do not perform well compared to some synthetic inputs. There is a need among growers, crop advisors, and pest control advisors to learn about the basic and applied aspects of biologicals, successful field examples, and associated regulatory aspects, improving the use of biologicals in crop production and protection for more sustainable food production.
How UC Delivers
UC ANR Cooperative Extension Advisor Surendra Dara organized an Ag Innovations Conference focused exclusively on biologicals. Held in March 2019 in Santa Maria, the biologicals conference and trade show drew nearly 180 people from California, other states, and outside the United States. The conference offered a platform for the farming community, agricultural input industry, and researchers to come together, network, learn about growers' concerns, and discuss the potential of biologicals in promoting sustainable agriculture. Topics presented at the conference included regulatory updates; how to improve soil organic matter and soil microbiome; microbial and botanical biostimulants, their mode of action, and use strategies; biological and microbial studies; and alternative uses for entomopathogenic fungi. The trade show allowed vendors to showcase their products and technologies and meet with the farming community to understand their needs.
A large attendance and overwhelmingly positive feedback at the conference and through anonymous surveys indicated the success of this outreach effort. Out of the 138 survey responses, 97.1% indicated that the information presented at the conference was useful. Participants specified that they learned the differences and similarities of biologicals, the benefits of biologicals and their influence in farming, information on implementing biological control agents into an Integrated Pest Management program, state of the industry and discussion of trends in ag biological products, and new microbials. 95.7% of respondents plan to use information they learned on nearly 70,000 acres which they farm, manage, and influence. As shown in Dara's research, using biologicals in agricultural systems can improve soil and plant health. For example, in a 2017 field study of tomatoes, silicon, microbial, botanical, and nutrient materials improved processing tomato yields by 27 to 32% compared to the standard fertility program. Biologicals are more sustainable because they allow for the efficient use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, reducing groundwater contamination and avoiding resistance problems for pests and diseases, respectively. In this way, UC ANR enhances the ecological sustainability of agriculture, contributing to the public value of protecting California's natural resources.