Taming insects and making sure greenhouse pests remain at bay is just part of the research happening at Brandon’s Assiniboine Community College.
Students have been working with Dr. Poonam Singh to come up with biological pest control agents to find out which bugs can keep others in check so they don’t harm greenhouse environments.
Insects such as thrips, spider mites, aphids, leaf miners, and whiteflies can pose a significant risk to plants.
The 3,300-square-foot sustainable greenhouse at ACC’s North Hill Campus is acting as a classroom for the research to be carried out.
“The knowledge about biological pest control agents is out there. It’s ever emerging,” said Singh. “I’m researching about its application under local climatic conditions. I am also researching about the effective usage in solar greenhouses. This is a research tool in an applied sense.”
The greenhouse was ridden with a pest population 10 months ago, but Singh saw the problem as a biological learning and research opportunity.
Students are now inspecting plants and monitoring counts on sticky cards that catch and trap flying pests. With Singh’s guidance, they adjust the number of beneficial organisms or ‘natural enemies’ to keep pest numbers under control.
“It was great to learn first hand how to identify, monitor, and manage pest and beneficial insect populations,” said Stephanie Hinrichs, a 2016 graduate of the college’s Sustainable Food Systems advanced certificate program.
Students found as many as 635 thrips during a single monitoring last September. In their last week of classes this past April, thrips numbers had fallen to 17.
“It’s a learning tool [for students] because they get to see the pests at all stages,” Singh added.
“They also get to see how effective these biological agents can be in controlling pests. Now they’re even faster than me in monitoring. They have such a trained eye.”
The research project is being supported by Growing Forward 2, a five-year federal-provincial-territorial policy framework to advance the agriculture industry.