The changing landscape of indoor growing

Ask the Experts - Pest management

A Q&A with Joe Lara, senior product manager of greenhouse & nursery production at BASF.

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November 17, 2020

Joe Lara
Photo courtesy of BASF

What is your current view of consumer trends related to indoor production of fresh vegetables for the U.S. market?

We’ve got an increasingly diverse population, whether it’s coming from [inside or outside] the U.S. The beauty of that is it brings with it diverse cultural practices and diverse food tastes. Even more recently, there’s [been] concern not only for human health but also for pet health. That’s all driven by a culture that is intensely interested in what goes into [food] products. We have today an “experience hungry consumer market.” Anything around that experience drives a lot of these trends. That causes growers to think about what markets they want to participate in and those things elevate growers to try new types of crops. It causes breeders to push their breeding results and types of offerings in these specialty crop markets to a higher level, because consumers are not only interested in what foods are available, but where they come from and who’s growing them.

What range of pest management practices are available in the market today to help growers achieve the highest quality in their indoor-grown vegetable crops?

It’s certainly been a rapidly changing environment, especially with new technologies being driven under this new acronym of CEA, which is controlled-environment agriculture. These growers have the ability to control their environment, which means they can control temperature, light, water, nutrients and the use of crop protection products to manage diseases and insect pests. Traditional crop protection chemistries and new biological systems that have come into play now in the last several years — they’re all formulated and labeled for indoor growing in these controlled-environment agriculture systems. Those are the types of things that we see today that are available for growers that BASF is clearly a part of now.

What role do biologically based pest management products and programs play in indoor production systems of the fresh vegetable market?

The challenge for growers today is that they’re being asked a lot of questions [about] how they do it and what’s in the products that they offer so that either the retailer, distributor or consuming public has a level of confidence that the grower is providing them with safe food. We have to find a way to bring biologically oriented approaches [together] with conventional chemistry so that if the grower has to use chemistry, then that chemistry help[s] them with the problem, but at the same time, [doesn’t] negatively impact the other biologically oriented approaches that they’re utilizing as a part of their pest management practices.

How is BASF working to bring new pest management solutions that help growers meet these changing consumer trends?

There is an ongoing need for education and training. That really is at the heart of the demand for commercial growers today — trying to understand how to bring all of this together under these more complex, diverse pest management systems we have. What we have done in the recent past is not only have we been able to be a more reliable commercial provider of these beneficial nematodes — we’ve introduced some new chemistries, particularly for insect and mite control, that were formulated and developed carefully to be compatible with beneficial insect systems.

Looking ahead, what can professional growers in these indoor vegetable production systems expect to see from BASF in the next 3-5 years?

BASF is investing, every day and every week and every year, research and development monies into new chemistries and new innovations that are planned out over the next [10 to 30] years and beyond. Even in this short term of three to five years, there are some new innovations and new chemistries that we’ll bring into the marketplace — most likely in [the] insecticide space, because we know that’s where there’s probably the greatest need to manage resistance issues. We’re encouraging our internal development efforts to look at formulations that can be utilized more effectively, certainly with the idea that less is more — not only [if it] can be used at a lower rate, but if it can also be even more specialized and targeted for certain pests [and diseases].