Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Beauveria bassiana - A Fuzzy Friend in the Battle to Protect Our Coffee Supply

Only six years ago, the horizon looked bleak for coffee bean farmers in Kona, Hawaii. The dreaded coffee berry borers (Hypothenemus hampei) had infested up to 44 percent of Kona’s coffee crop and began threatening the livelihoods of Kona’s farmers!

In a market where quality is king, these coffee farmers could hardly compete with the minimal yields they were working with. Fortunately, the farmers found a surprising solution: the beneficial fungus, Beauveria bassiana

Commonly used by organic growers as a broad spectrum pest control spray, B. bassiana is gaining ground in agricultural use as 
a soil drench as well. 

Its popularity can be chalked up to three things:

1.  It is an economically suitable option for most farmers.
2.  It works on nearly every pest insect
3.  It is safe to use around other “good bugs”, including the                  bees we all love.    

The advantage to using a beneficial fungus is that your control spray continues to grow, spread and infect pest insects long after you spray. All it takes is one spore for B. bassiana to begin its battle for control, moving from pest to pest while infecting them with white muscardine disease. Pests get slower and slower, before finally succumbing to the disease, becoming a stationary breeding ground for the fungus that will erupt from their bodies. At this stage, you may come across an insect covered in white fuzz. Gross right? 

Ant infected with white muscardine
disease from B. bassiana

The video to the below shows how the fungus works to control bed bugs once applied. It moves through other insect populations in the same manner. 

Thankfully, like most other biorational controls, B. bassiana has little to no effect on humans. This is why it has been fantastic for the Kona coffee farmers. They can spray it and have the application last for close to a month before reapplying, all while keeping their harvests marketable and any beneficial bugs alive and kicking. They are successfully implementing integrated pest management strategies to maintain their crop health, but more importantly, their livelihoods. Infested crop area was estimated at a lowly 8-10 percent in June of 2018! Looking back at where the farmers were in 2012, Suzanne Shriner said, “That’s the difference between financial sustainability for our farmers and going under.” (Max Dible, West Hawaii Today)

While the use of B. bassiana is a new discovery in the control of coffee berry borers, it has been used extensively to control common garden pests like aphids, whiteflies, mealybugs, tomato hornworms and more. If you are making an effort to garden organically or build up your local pollinator populations, consider trying B. bassiana the next time you have a pest infestation. It works great alongside green lacewing and ladybugs, especially when those summer pests come out!

Subscribe to the Dig Deeper blog and join ARBICO’s email list for limited time discounts, pest control recommendations, organic growing supplies and more information about how people are tackling problems with an eye towards sustainability! 

- Contributed by Sterling @ ARBICO Organics

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