My Championing Local Business tour has opened my eyes to a wide range of enterprise in Saanich North and the Islands. I have visited facilities manufacturing heavy industrial equipment for logging and marine ports, boat building and repairs, food processing and research and development in a variety of fields. Clearly, my riding is home to a vast array of expertise.
As it turns out, we are also home to world-leaders in beneficial arthropods. My meeting with Brian Spencer from Applied Bio-nomics, at his North Saanich greenhouse facilities, reminded me of being a kid in our own greenhouses. The science behind growing, storing and shipping parasitic wasps and predatory midges is complex yet the premise is simple – figure out how nature works naturally and then encourage more of it.
Nature does it better
The idea of controlling pests with their natural predators goes back as long as humans have been engaged in agriculture. Even though agricultural practices alter the landscape, hedgerows are an example of natural insectaries, home to valuable natural predators of pests that love to feast on the food produced for human consumption.
However, I grew up in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s and my family business was horticulture. I remember times when we were not allowed into the greenhouses because we had an aphid problem. Instead of deploying an army of naturally occurring aphid predators to seek and destroy their prey, we sprayed chemicals.
The rise of chemicals
The Second World War was a turning point for the chemical industry. Up until the 1930’s, insectaries like Applied Bio-nomics supplied natural weapons for farmers. However, following the war, chemicals became the primary tool for pest management. They were a highly effective, ultra-short-term solution. They killed everything, pest and predator, laying waste to the natural environment and devastating entire eco-systems causing many unpredicted consequences throughout the inter-connected web of life.
Even more problematic is that, much like antibiotics for humans, efficacy decreases over time. Some of the pests will survive the chemical attack, then they reproduce, making the chemical compound obsolete and fuelling another round of chemical innovation. It’s a vicious cycle that lays waste to nature and poisons our food supply.
Leading the world
Canada is a leader in the research and development of harnessing the power of nature for pest management and Applied Bio-nomics on the Saanich Peninsula is at the forefront of the industry. Through the federal government Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive Program they have been able to develop our understanding by growing a massive population of the pest, to encourage the production of the predators. Then they catch, store and ship them for application in agricultural greenhouses and fields around North America and the world.
The chemical industry made big promises. It’s easy, available and is sold as conventional agricultural practice. Health Canada determines products like glyphosate are safe for humans but we are not the only part of nature to be concerned about. Unfortunately, the more you use chemicals, the more you need to use chemicals. However, because of innovators like Applied Bio-nomics we don’t have to rely on the chemical industry to create evermore complex chemical concoctions.
It’s exciting to see the work of Applied Bio-nomics reconnecting us with what we always knew. Nature has a solution. If we get out of the way and watch, we can learn how to harness it’s power. The work Brian and his crew are doing in North Saanich is one important part of ensuring we have a safe and healthy supply of food in a rapidly changing world and climate.