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(BASIC) General Observations August 2 & 3
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D–Vac General Observations August 2 & 3

Kern County BASIC Pilot Program

General observations to all growers:

"Precision farming" in a monocultural plantscape is the latest attempt to remove uncertainty from the living farming processes making them mechanistically reliable. Observations about the ecology of the farm plantscape is generally not considered to be a science because there is so much variation in farming systems that are difficult to control. Reliable reproducible data are often not attainable on farms. It is important to understanding living systems such as insect population growth among many diverse potential pest species and the natural functions of parasites and predators that suppress them. It takes knowledge of all of the complex sets of natural enemies and their prey to make predictions of the extent of population growth and any effects damage or reduce yield of the market crop.

We think that our methodology and assessment of causation and prediction of the enormous complexity of organisms associated with growing a cotton crop is as scientific as any other science. After all, "science" means "knowledge" to be obtained by whatever methods are appropriate in the particular study. Experiences observed in our laboratory, the farmer's cotton field, where the flow of complex plant growth happens along the growth pathway. The pathway triggers small events that conclude as a successful harvest or a crop failure, but which events trigger what cannot be successfully replicated. It is by necessity a historical set of events where change (mostly slightly controlled or uncontrolled by the way we farm) dominates the complex scene from planting to harvest.

Laboratory experiments can play little or no role in understanding the processes in the historical sciences such as astronomy, climatology, agro–ecology, evolutionary biology, geology and paleontology. We have found other methods, such as our attempts to gain knowledge of applied biological control in cotton insect management, using observations, comparisons, and other so–called natural experimental techniques, works where the complexity and unpredictability of the biological natural enemy systems is too large for reliability of prediction.

The difficulty is that, to varying degrees, it is impossible to perform replicated controlled experiments of sufficient plot size to overcome the enormous number of variables, resulting from the uniqueness of the biological systems. There is too much movement of the pests and their natural enemies and most of the important players in biological control are nearly impossible to see without a microscope (i.e. predation and parasitism of the eggs and tiny immature stages). The development of the vacuum insect sampling equipment and using microscopic observations has expanded the scope of observations to include nearly all of the stages of the insect life instead of only assessing the adults and larger immature individuals. Observing populations of life–stages from eggs to adults adds insight to predictability of future action of biological control or the lack of it. We get these insights at least 7 to 10 days earlier than when only the standard sweep net is used. Looking at all of the organisms each is characterized by an enormous number of independent variables that feed back on each other in their interconnected behavior. The interconnectedness adds to our understanding of causation of observable patterns of pest development. Both potential pests and their sets of associated natural enemies (insects and mites) can be quickly harvested, preserved in alcohol and examined immediately or later with a microscope, thus saving time while increasing sampling size and scope of the populations.

Pesticides, that are applied to prevent pests, using the paradigm "if in doubt treat" or, worse yet, "treat after the damage is done" are followed as a result of fear of the unknown future events. Increasing the awareness of our farmer clients to timely proactive strategies that augment natural controls of pests will reduce the pollution and expense of the conventional chemical programs. Emphasis is on training the farmers and their key employees and those PCAs who are advocates for the farmer in the principles of ecologically based pest management. There is no "precision pest control" other than eradication and that record is a dismal failure of resistance and a treadmill of poisons.

To varying degrees, each farm is plagued by the impossibility of performing replicated controlled experimental interventions, the complexity arising from enormous numbers of variables, resulting in uniqueness of each system on each farm, the consequent impossibility of formulating universal laws, and the difficulties of predicting emergent properties and future behavior. However, we profit from the experiences gained from careful observations of the complexity of the whole set natural enemies that interconnect to feed on each other, the ecological base of the science of biological control. We hope this helps explain the methods that we routinely use when following the progress of biological control processes in the "time–line" of the growing season.

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