The Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Insectary is halfway down a dead end road in the farming town of Palisade.
The Insectary is the oldest and largest facility of its kind in the United States engaged in developing biocontrol insects that are adapted to attacking bugs and plants harmful to agriculture.
This pioneering program began in response to a peach pest called the Oriental Fruit Moth that devastated the local crop in the 1930s and 1940s until scientists successfully introduced the parasitic wasp, Macrocentrus ancylivorus, which was the perfect predator to control the moth.
Today the facility’s angular, modern design stands out in its rural setting, but it reflects the groundbreaking science going on inside. Room after room and two greenhouses are full of pesky insects and noxious weeds that have been accidentally or carelessly introduced into the United States over the years and are proven plagues to food and field.
So the staff is always busy studying the beneficial bugs that may eradicate these threats.
This serious research can take a decade or two before confirming that a potential biocontrol insect is sure to be on target in its attacks and not become a pest itself.
According to the Insectary’s Manager, Dan Bean, “We want to make certain the agents we release are safe and that’s the number one priority is safety. We want to make sure we don’t release something that’s going to feed on a non-target as we say.”
Once these bugs are available for general release in Colorado and on a more limited basis in other states, they’ve already passed the Insectary’s rigorous test as natural agents that can replace expensive, chemical pesticides and potentially do the least possible harm to the environment.
And that’s in keeping with the best practices in pest management that Bean describes as, “… an important part of organic farming and for farmers that are using pesticides it is an important way for them to reduce pesticide use … that will provide them a means of preventing the interference of pesticides with pollinators.”
Dan Garrison is producer and correspondent for Rocky Mountain PBS News in Grand Junction. DanGarrison@rmpbs.org.