Meet The Pirate Bugs That Help Israeli Farmers Keep Their Produce Pest-Free
Meet the superheroes of the insect world: “pirate bugs” that feast on thrips, aphids and other tiny pests that destroy and infect food crops.
Single-mindedly devoted to their mission, these beneficial predators have allowed Israeli farmers in the Arava region of the Negev Desert – where 60 percent of Israel’s fresh vegetable exports originate – to cut their use of chemical pesticides by about 80 percent.
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Nearly every one of the 120 farmers in the Arava’s Moshav Ein-Yahav, one of the largest farming villages in Israel, uses this form of biological pest control, a.k.a. integrated pest management (IPM). Ein-Yahav collectively produces about 34,000 tons of peppers, watermelons, melons, tomatoes and other vegetables in protected greenhouses, net houses and tunnels. Half are exported.
“We usually use natural enemies to eat insects that cause damage, and if we do spray it’s only on a small scale for the one or two plants with high infestation,” says Rami Sadeh, a farmer and staff agronomist at Yofi Shel Yerakot (Beauty of Vegetables), the company that markets most of Ein-Yahav’s produce along with citrus fruit, lettuce, cabbage, carrots and potatoes grown elsewhere in Israel.
“It costs us more money per dunam, but we can sleep well knowing we are not using chemicals,” the father of four tells ISRAEL21c.
Safer for the farmer and the consumer
Sadeh began planting his melons, peppers and eggplants four years ago using this method of pest control, which was pioneered in Israel about a decade ago at Bio-Bee Biological Systems at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu. Today, a similar company at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai also raises and sells predatory insects for agriculture.
“It took farmers time to see that this technique works and they can rely on it,” says Sadeh, a former chemical company employee. “I started using it immediately because I knew it works. For me and for my children it’s safer, and of course for the consumer.”
His description of how the pirate bugs do their job is almost gruesome, but this is nature at its best.
Take, for example, the parasitic wasp whose one mission in life is killing aphids, the much-hated “plant lice” that destructively suck the sap from crops.
“The predatory wasps lay their eggs in the body of the aphid and the larva grows inside the aphid and kills it,” Sadeh explains. “From the dead body of the aphid, the egg hatches with a new wasp.”
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Via Israel 21c
Photo: Pixabay (public domain)