Project helps company overcome pesky pests in cannabis crops

Finding a natural solution for one of the most challenging pest pressures in cannabis production fits perfectly with the mission of Koppert Biological Systems.

But Tom Groot, Koppert’s Manager of Research and Development, Macrobials, knows that asking growers to contribute their own crops to test biological controls against the cannabis aphid is a big ask.

They’re potentially putting their growing season — their livelihood — at risk for something that may or may not work.

So, when faced with finding a solution for what Groot calls “the hardest challenge” of growing cannabis in Canada, the team at Koppert knew it would need support from well-equipped researchers capable of working in a confined setting.

“In order to do pest control, you have to see it, you have to touch it, you have to see the results for yourself,” Groot said.

Thanks to Niagara College alumni working at the Canadian office of the Netherlands-based global corporation, Koppert found help through the NC’s Horticultural & Environmental Sciences Innovation Centre (HESIC).

Led by researcher Sebastien Jacob, a faculty member and researcher, with his deep knowledge of integrated pest and disease management, the HESIC team started testing biological controls in the CannaResearchBunker in January. For four months, the team studied natural candidates that could take on the cannabis aphid and be a product that Koppert could then market to growers as a vital part of their integrated pest management plans.

By April, Groot and Koppert had valuable insight into which direction they should go in their pursuit of a game-changing biocontrol.

“It was a pleasure to work with Sebastien and his team. We were happy. They did an excellent job,” Groot said.

“In order to do pest control, you have to see it, you have to touch it, you have to see the results for yourself.” ~ Tom Groot, Koppert Biological Systems

Since the project with HESIC wrapped in the spring, Koppert has taken what it learned from Niagara College outside the lab to test in real-world growing conditions in an effort to confirm the findings of Jacob and team.

“That, I can say, is so far, so good. The lessons we learned (from Niagara College) really helped us a lot,” Groot said.

Koppert has even been able to start marketing the biological control to Canadian growers, who work in a highly regulated industry that emphasizes natural pest control over the chemical interventions used elsewhere in the world.

“I think you should consider that a compliment because from what I see, Canada has one of the most stringent controls on what can be used, especially what cannot be used on crops for pest control,” Groot said. “It’s a compliment but it’s also why this was a tough challenge to solve.”

And a challenge that Koppert is seeing in other cannabis-producing regions that are moving away from chemical pesticides. That means there’s a wide market for this new biological control beyond Canada.

“We are learning in Canada solutions that will be used in other places as well,” Groot explained. “That’s the great thing about Canada controlling what’s being used (on cannabis crops). It’s a brave move and Canada will be ahead of everybody.”

The great thing for Koppert and Niagara College is they now have a partnership that could one day lead to more critical industry-advancing research when the need arises.

“If there’s a good topic to work on, I’d be happy to collaborate,” Groot said. “They delivered more than we asked for.”