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© Og-vision | Dreamstime.com
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© Aetmeister | Dreamstime.com
On the outskirts of Nanoose Bay, on Vancouver Island, 10 buildings are spread over a fairly typical farm property. Horses roam the green fields ... but this is definitely not a horse ranch; it's a ranch of a very different kind.
Inside those 10 nondescript buildings, literally billions of bugs are living and breeding. This is the home of the Bug Factory, one of only three similar businesses in all of Canada.
"We're bug farmers," says co-owner Angie Hale. "Our youngest daughter was so embarrassed she told everyone I was a nurse, because she didn't want to tell them I was a bug farmer!"
Angie and husband Chris co-founded the Bug Factory in the 1980s with a few cages of insects in the garage and buckets of bran mites in the bathroom. The business took off, and has evolved into a full-scale production facility and research centre.
They raise everything from pollinating bees to the mighty Ladybug, to microscopically sized nematodes, so small that five million beneficial nematodes will fit into a teaspoon.
Scientists and specialists in organic farming from the Bug Factory work with customers to help control pests, while reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides.
The Bug Factory partners with Biobest Biological Systems, a worldwide leader in biological protection, allowing them to supply virtually any biological control product their clients could ever need.
These products range from standard mites and lady beetles, to newly developed and experimental insects; all the way to sticky cards and traps, bio-pesticides, nematodes and pollination bumblebees.
"We grow them for commercial agriculture, for protected crops like glasshouse vegetables, and also for field crops like berries such as blueberries or cranberries," says Hale.
However, the Bug Factory has had to overcome a prevailing belief that biological control is just for greenhouse plants. Until recently most of the Bug Factories business for outdoor crops was in producing bees for pollination.
In reality there are many field uses of biocontrol in crops such as cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, tunnel raspberries, squash and many others.
Nematodes are commonly used in cranberries for cranberry girdler control and are beginning to be used for black vine weevil in blueberries and strawberries. Two-spotted spider mites can also be controlled in strawberries and raspberries with two predatory mites, Fallacis and Persimilis. Ladybugs, Lacewings and Aphidoletes are effective predators of aphids in many field crops including squash and blueberries.
In recent years, with the growth of organic production, the Bug Factory has seen rapid growth in their business for orchards, vineyards and field berries.
"It's a relatively new industry," says Hale. "We've been growing insects since the 1980s but the last couple of years have seen a huge interest. People are becoming more and more concerned about food quality; more organic growing and more pesticide free growing, so it's a growing industry for both the biologicals and the pollination."
The other issue that's driven growth is the fact pests can become resistant to pesticides, whereas biological controls like predator insects maintain their effectiveness.
The practice of using insects for biocontrol of pests is becoming popular in other areas as well, says Hale. "It always has been very popular in commercial agriculture, but more and more in urban landscaping. City planning and home gardening are the areas where there is still a lot of growth to take place."
Now the business is all grown up and increasingly successful, even the Hale's daughter has begun to accept this unusual farm business.
"She's 23 so she's kinda come to terms with it," Hale laughs. "She thinks it's pretty cool now!"■
For more information on the Bug Factory, go to www.thebugfactory.ca