A nursery of millions of insects to protect tomatoes

A nursery of millions of insects to protect tomatoes
A nursery of millions of insects to protect tomatoes

Guipavas (France) (AFP)

It is rather unusual intensive breeding: millions of bugs and micro-wasps swarm around tobacco plants perfectly aligned under a vast glass roof. The Breton agricultural cooperative Savéol pampers small insects that replace pesticides to fight against pests.

Some ten million small green macrolophus bugs and 130 million encarsia and eretmocerus micro-wasps are produced annually by the leading tomato cooperative in France.

The little black and yellow encarsia wasp lays its eggs in whitefly larvae, small sap-hungry white flies increasingly resistant to pesticides, which it feeds on from the inside causing their death. Eretmocerus also attacks white flies but at a somewhat later stage, just like macrolophus which however also eats aphids, caterpillar eggs or even small caterpillars.

While waiting to end up on a tomato plant, the little green bug is fed with ringworm eggs in the greenhouses of Savéol Nature, the unit responsible for this unusual breeding located in Guipavas, at the gates of Brest.

Hundreds of tobacco plants, belonging to the same family as the tomato plants, are used to house the small auxiliaries. Their large leaves also facilitate handling.

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Using pruning shears, an employee cuts off the top of a plant, then shakes it over a large funnel. The insects fall into a box surmounted by a filter. Each week they are sent to the 126 market gardeners of the cooperative, which also produces nearly 16,000 colonies of bumblebees intended for the pollination of tomato and strawberry flowers.

If the use of auxiliaries to replace phytosanitary products is more and more frequent, Savéol is the only cooperative in France, and even in Europe according to its statements, to have its own breeding, which allows it to best respond to its needs.

– “Third way” –

In the first quarter of 2021, the Directorate General for Food (DGAL) had recorded 330 references of organisms used in biological control and benefiting from authorizations against 257 in 2015, a sign of the “strong development in recent years” of the use of ‘insects to protect crops, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

“In 2020, we did not do any chemical treatment at all,” says François Pouliquen, at the head of Saveur d’Iroise, a member farm of the cooperative which has eight hectares of greenhouses.

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“We are in a period when the consumer seeks to eat healthy. Pesticide-free is a third way, an alternative for mass production but healthy”, he pleads, estimating organic production “not within the reach of everyone in terms of budget “. His farm, located in Gouesnou, a neighboring town, produces soil-less tomatoes, as is the case for the vast majority of Savéol members, which immediately excludes organic certification.

Launched in 1983, before being enlarged in 2013 to reach an area of ​​4,500 m2, the Savéol insect farm will expand again this year, to an additional 1,200 m2.

This expansion “will allow us to significantly increase our production capacities”, rejoices Pierre-Yves Jestin, at the head of the structure which produces 74,000 tonnes of tomatoes each year, but also 2,500 tonnes of strawberries.

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The new extension will be used to develop the breeding of bedbugs, the demand for which is “growing” since the launch in 2019 of the label “without pesticides”, explains to AFP Roselyne Souriau, head of breeding at Savéol Nature. The label was launched in 2019 with the Prince de Bretagne brands, from the Sica de Saint-Pol de Léon cooperative, and Solarenn, another Breton cooperative. Currently, 163 market gardeners affix it to their products.

The new extension will also allow the development of a new range of insects more suited to strawberry cultivation.

© 2021 AFP

 
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