Valuable performance in a vital supporting role | CropSolutions Australia

Valuable performance in a vital supporting role

Appreciating the enormous value of a unique biological crop-protection product like Velifer® from BASF can require a bit of adjustment to the usual mindset. Its positive impact on pest control programs and crop health goes well beyond its own performance on key target species.

Integrated Pest Management using diverse management techniques with reduced reliance on chemicals is now essential for horticulturists to meet market expectations. If there were IPM awards on offer, a truly innovative solution like Velifer would surely be a strong contender in the Best Supporting Product category.

Selling blockbuster chemicals is easy, but we know that relying on the crop-protection ‘stars’ alone is unsustainable. For vegetable growers using greenhouses and other protective structures, Velifer plays a very important complementary role, as BASF Technical Services Specialist Sarah Anderson explains: “Once chemical insecticides get the pest numbers below economic thresholds, multiple maintenance sprays of Velifer can be used to keep the numbers down. Then, if there’s a spike, you can go back to conventional insecticides. Across the growing season, that can mean cutting what could have been five or six chemical sprays to just two or three. And of course that helps extend the useful life of each chemical insecticide because applying fewer sprays will slow the development of resistance.”

Velifer also helps support the use of beneficial insects. At least one major tomato grower has found it can help reduce whitefly numbers to a level where releasing the beneficial predator Nesidiocoris tenuis will complete a job it couldn’t initially have managed on its own. Then, if there is any remaining pest pressure, they use multiple applications of Velifer right through the period when they’re harvesting every few days – taking full advantage of the fact that Velifer has no maximum residue limit or withholding period.

The active ingredient in Velifer is a beneficial fungus. Each millilitre of the formulation contains a mind-boggling eight billion or so fungal spores that are released onto the plant surface. When thrips, whiteflies, aphids and two-spotted mites come into contact with those fungal spores, the spores germinate and eventually the fungus invades the insect pest. The fungus then consumes the insect, causing death by dehydration relatively early in the process but continuing to grow by feeding on the internal organs.

There is no damage to the plant and no threat to beneficial insect species.

These images show the distinctive ‘icing sugar’ effect created as the Velifer fungus colonises the target insect.

Even better, the process is so complex that Velifer has no designated mode of action and the chances of target species ever developing resistance to it are extremely low. It has, after all, already been working for millennia in the wild.

Velifer is the only biological insecticide (Beauveria bassiana strain PPRI 5339) registered in Australia for this use pattern in protected structures.. “We did a lot of work globally, so we had a very good set of data proving that Velifer is harmless to beneficial species. Getting the initial registration for ‘indoor’ use meant that we could release it nationally because all protected structures are classified as a single climatic zone. Now we’re looking to expand the label into outdoor use by putting together trial results in the Northern, Southern and Western cropping zones.”

Velifer has already come a very long way since its naturally occurring fungus, a strain of Beauveria bassiana, was first isolated from the larva of the tortoise beetle in South Africa in 1994.

The product now sold here is manufactured here too. BASF’s Somersby production facility already had a long association with biological products as the home of Nodulaid peat inoculants. “BASF has shown our commitment to biologicals and the local industry by investing millions of dollars to upgrade the Somersby plant,” Sarah says. “As well as Nodulaid, we’re now making Nodulator granules and Velifer there. It’s great to have that security of supply despite all the current restrictions. In the longer term we’re confident Somersby can become the production hub supplying Velifer throughout Asia.”

Velifer is not a simple product with a simple story, but the best way to find out how well it works is simple: encourage people to try it out. Then you can see it in action and work out just how big a role it can play in future spray plans.

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