AT FIRST glance it seems like an oxymoron, an international crop protection giant hosting a series of workshops by a team of integrated pest management (IPM) specialists who focus on coming up with methods to cut insecticide use.
However, FMC have worked with Paul Horne and Jessica Page, of advisory firm IPM Technologies in delivering workshops across south-east Australia in recent weeks, with the view that allowing beneficial predators of crop pests to flourish can assist the efficacy of its products.
It's part of an IPM philosophy that centres around building up beneficials when you can, but not being afraid of the use of pesticides when it is economically unavoidable.
Dr Horne said IPM Technologies had a three pronged approach to minimising pest damage, including biological control, in the form of beneficial species, such as parasitic wasps, which reduce aphid numbers, cultural controls, such as strategic tillage or burning, effective with slugs and snails, and pesticides where necessary.
For its part, FMC encourages the concept of IPM because it wants to see continued efficacy of its insecticide products with less risk of resistance.
Dr Horne said IPM allowed farmers to cut their use of pesticides, reducing costs and minimising resistance threats so the products work when they are really needed.
He said it marked a move away from the 'scorched earth' insect management of the past, when a heavy handed rate of a broad spectrum insecticide was used.
"Using something that just wipes out all species can actually benefit pests in the long run as there are no longer those natural controls, ideally we want to focus on selective pesticide products."
Cultural controls help take the pressure off pesticides.
"We look at the cultural control options that can help keep the pest insect species numbers down, aside from chemical control, and then we look at the chemical groups that can be used without impacting beneficial numbers as the preferred option if a spray is needed," Dr Horne said.
As with the use of insecticides, Dr Horne said the cultural methods involved a trade-off.
With snails and slugs, which have emerged as major problems, especially in high rainfall zones, controls such as tillage and burning are some of the most effective means of non-chemical control.
"However, for farmers who are looking at no-till systems for soil structure and health they don't want to lose all those benefits by going out and burning, but if slug numbers are so high there are few other options, then that is one thing they have up their sleeve."
Other things can include removing weeds that can harbour high numbers of pests, or, on the other side of the equation, planting buffer zones of plants that are known habitats for beneficials.
Dr Horne said it was about making life harder for the pests and easier for the beneficial species.
He said spiders, wasps, carabid beetles and hover flies all formed important forms of control on different species.
Hover flies are good on aphids, different wasp species can control both aphids and armyworm, while beetles attacked snails and slugs and the various pest mites, such as Lucerne flea and red legged earth mite.