Biological Control and its Economics in the Southern United States
Many hundreds of species of nematodes, molluscs, insects, mites, plant diseases, and weeds are major or minor pests in the southern United States. But farmers, growers, ranchers, and homeowners don’t always have to do something to control them, because “nature” takes care of the problem. Sometimes “nature” is the weather, but at other times it is natural enemies (predators, parasites and diseases of the pests). For example, horn fly can be a major pest of cattle throughout the region, but well over 90% of all horn fly eggs and larvae (which develop in cattle dung) can be destroyed by predators and parasitoids without any action on the part of the rancher. Indeed, action by the rancher can make things worse: pesticides fed to cattle in attempt to kill biting flies can destroy the predators and parasitoids in the cattle dung, resulting in more adult horn flies than before, because horn fly is now resistant to virtually all chemical pesticides, but the natural enemies are still susceptible.
Simply stopping use of chemical pesticides usually is not a viable solution to pest problems. Some chemicals remain effective, at least at present. Many natural enemies will not do an adequate job of controlling pests without help, if at all. First and foremost, farmers, growers, ranchers and homeowners, must acquire considerable depth of knowledge about pests, what it takes to control them under their conditions, and the comparative costs and benefits of the strategies available.
To use partial budgeting to analyze the economics of classical biological control researched and developed in the Southern Region. To expand an existing computerized database on biocontrol so that all available information from or relevant to the Southern Region is entered, including the results of the economic analyses (above). To make this information available to potential users throughout the Southern Region by the SARE information network (internet/telnet), and keep it updated.
Methods fall into five areas: (1) Bibliographical searches and assembly for biological information on all major (and many minor) agricultural pests in the Southern Region with their native natural enemies and all biological control agents that have been imported against them. (2) Bibliographical searches for existing economic analyses of use of biological control in the Southern Region and nearby states. (3) Support of new studies, as projects for graduate students, on economics of use of biological control. (4) Programming the structure of the database, for filing and retrieving information, and for distribution of the information by internet/telnet. (5) Data entry.
Results fell short of expectations in two areas because of under-funding of the project. The initial request was for funds to support a post-doctoral research associate, with training in entomology and economics, who would work full-time on the project. Funds offered allowed support only of one untrained graduate student. Most of the funds awarded were used for the stipend of this graduate student who obtained training by taking courses toward an M.S. degree in economics. Two of the activities of the graduate student contributed to the database: (a) a research project in economics of biological control of two pest species, and (b) a bibliography on economics of biological control. The database was to be constructed and installed on two IBM-clone personal computers with IBM-DOS operating system and gateway to the internet. The computers and software and gateway functioned, but the database could not be made interactive with users at remote locations without additional telnet daemon software, i.e., such users could read short messages, but could not make the database function. Telnet daemon software was available for Unix operating systems, but was only just becoming available in 1993 for the much less expensive IBM operating systems. We had no funds to purchase Unix operating systems in place of IBM operating systems for our computers. Our part-time computer programmer investigated telnet daemon (for IBM) commercial software and, after much time and effort and interaction with the manufacturers, found none of it satisfactory. This time and effort reduced the amount of time the programmer had available for programming the structure of the database which, consequently, is still incomplete. The telnet daemon software we now have will almost function, but needs further refinement by its manufacturers, which is likely to happen soon.
We now have a partially completed database which will generate more than 1,000 pages of basic information on crops, pests, and biological control agents of the pests. Yet this is a fraction of the information required to be entered into the database to make it useful to farmers (it already is useful to researchers). We have assembled much of the available additional information, but have not yet entered it. Economic studies of biological control methods for many pests have not been made. We feel that our database is the best way of providing information, but it needs additional financial support to speed development.