Biological Control Practices for High-Tunnel Crop Production

2002 Annual Report for LNE02-164

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $125,314.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $78,363.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Michael Orzolek
Pennsylvania State University

Biological Control Practices for High-Tunnel Crop Production


High tunnels are increasingly used for season extension of horticultural crops throughout the country. The cultural techniques of the high-tunnel environment falls somewhere in between greenhouse and field production. Research has shown that the use of biocontrols or predatory insects to control pest populations in greenhouses to be effective and beneficial in decreasing or eliminating the use of chemical pesticides. As yet, no research has been conducted on the use of biocontrol species in the high-tunnel environment whereby both beneficial and pest insects have ample opportunity to move in and out of the high tunnel via the roll-up sides of the high tunnel in the hot summer months.

The goal of this project is to evaluate the use of predatory insects for pest control in the high-tunnel environment by recording extensive research data at the Penn State High Tunnel Research and Education Facility at Rock Springs, Pennsylvania. This project will also be conducting on-farm research in conjunction with two grower cooperators in the southeast and northwest part of Pennsylvania.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Since the requested budget was reduced when this project was approved for funding, the survey on high-tunnel use in Pennsylvania was dropped. Our other performance targets include hosting a field day for growers and an extension in-service day for agents. In addition to successfully completing these targets, we also hosted tours (total attendance 550) of this research project at the College of Agricultural Science's three-day Ag Progress Days at Rock Springs, Pennsylvania. At each of these events, the basic principles of Integrated Pest Management, as well as the use of biocontrols, was explained, and any pertinent research data that had been collected was elaborated on. At the field day for growers, sponsored in part by the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, many of the participants expressed interest in this project and have since asked for additional information. Additionally, we are in the process of working with our grower cooperators and our IPM consultants (Carol Glenister of IPM Labs and Cathy Thomas of the Pensylvania Department of Agriculture) to organize a meeting to discuss the crops, varieties, and scouting techniques that will be employed in the 2003 growing season. Carol has visited the HTREF to gain a firsthand perspective of the cropping environments and the agricultural production adjacent to the High Tunnel Facility that may impact on pest and predator populations. We are currently in the process of determining crop varieties, potential planting dates, and scouting methods with our grower cooperators. Visits will be made to their farms in the late winter and early spring. All cooperators have visted the HTREF at Rock Springs to observe current cropping, scouting, and production systems.


Through the research conducted in 2002 at the Penn State High Tunnel Research and Education Facility, we have had positive results successfully using biocontrols to manage both aphids and whiteflies, the primary pests found in most crop production systems. Not only was it determined that releasing ladybird beetles was more effective at maintaining low pest populations, but it also proved to be more economical than repeated applications of insecticidal soap. The results of this research project have reinforced our hypothesis that the use of biocontrols in high tunnels will decrease or eliminate the need by growers for repeated applications of pesticides to control insect pests in high tunnels.

Spring Workshop - April 27, 2002
High Tunnel Research and Education Facility, Rock Springs, PA
Attendee's: 28 including growers, researchers and extension personnel from PA, VA, NJ and MA.

Summer Field Day - July 19, 2002 cosponsored with PASA
High Tunnel Research and Education Facility, Rock Springs, PA
Attendee's: 60 growers from PA, VA, WVA and NY.

Ag Progress Days - August 22-24, 2002
Rock Springs, PA
Tours of High Tunnel Research & Education Facility detailing research projects with special emphasis on IPM and SARE project.
Attendee's: 550 over 3 days

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The outcome of this year's research has culminated in extensive data collection and analysis with preliminary discussion of results with growers and academicians touring the High Tunnel Research and Education Facility in 2002. Examples of such data is available from Northeast SARE.

This tunnel served as a control; no Ladybird beetle releases were made. Subsequently, insecticidal soap was sprayed only one time for pest control in late May.

Pest populations stayed well under the economic threshold level with few additional pest control measures (Figures 1A and 1C) In July, after three ladybird beetle releases were made in other tunnels, beetle populations raised although little reproduction was occurring as seen by the relatively low nymph level (Figures 1B and 1D). Towards the end of the season Green Lacewing Egg’s were encountered within the tunnel although no adults were sighted during scouting.

This tunnel received 4 Ladybird beetle releases.

Pest populations reached their highest levels in July, although still below the economic threshold level. Two ladybird beetle releases were made in July and reproduction occurred as nymph numbers peaked. Nymphs that matured were present in August and dropped in September as pest levels continued to decline. Few Green Lacewing Egg’s were sighted in this tunnel in July and August although no adults were encountered during scouting.