Commercial Biological Control: Beginnings, Growth, Development


This four part series was published in the Agribusiness Fresh Fruit and Raisin News Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec 1994. It is a history of Rincon-Vitova Insectaries and the biocontrol industry. A piece on Fillmore Insectary, a grower cooperative no longer in operation, adds another perspective to the history of the industry.


Part 1 The First Commercial Natural Enemy Venture

Part 2 The First For-Profit Beneficial Insect Production Facility

Part 3 Early Growth Of Commercial Biological Control

Part 4 The Spread of The Biocontrol Industry 1964-1978

Fillmore Citrus Protective District, by Monte Carpenter – a model of a successful biocontrol program


The First Commercial Natural Enemy Venture


By Jan Dietrick, General Manager and

Everett J. "Deke" Dietrick, Board Certified Entomologist and

President of Rincon-Vitova Insectaries, Inc

.    The following is the first in a series of articles outlining the history of the production and marketing of beneficial predators and parasites (mostly arthropods) for profit. Part 1 cites University of California Department of Biological Control research scientists involved during the 1940's and the evolution in their minds leading to the first commercial venture in 1930.


The need for natural enemies for pest management is intensifying every season. Customers may wonder what forces shaped this unique industry which has none of the attributes of a potentially successful business. Just like any agricultural product, insects are not patentable, they perish easily and lose quality quickly, and they require expert guidance for the customer to set up a program that will achieve desired results. Not only are beneficials challenging to produce, protect and market, but the marketing budgets of the chemical pesticide industry pose formidable competition indeed. The history of the early days of the natural biocontrol industry is an example of creative application of research knowledge to meet grower needs (before many growers were fully aware that a need existed!).


The University of California Department of Biological Control was, during the 1940's, under the inspired leadership of the founder of the science, Professor Harry Smith. The University's Statewide Biological Control Department was headquartered at the Citrus Experiment Station in Riverside (now the campus of UCR). The leading biological control experts worked for the Department and visitors came to this center from around the world. There were no courses given in this subject anywhere and few if any books were written about biological control.


One of the preeminent researchers at the Riverside Station was Dr. Paul DeBach. In 1947, he took the lead in a five-year project with Dr. Charles Fleschner and several technicians including senior author of this series of articles, Everett J. "Deke" Dietrick, researching classical biological control of the California red scale. DDT was immediately determined by this research as being destructive to predators and parasites. "DDT trees" became a way of comparing the total effects of the interference of natural enemies. Interference of biological control was clearly associated with dramatic increases of many secondary pests including California red scale. A major effort in this research was the development of mass-rearing methods for newly imported beneficial parasites obtained from the extensive foreign explorations of Harold Compere and released from the quarantine lab by Dr. Stanley Flanders.

Another project to use long-term biological control against both California citrus black scale and mealybugs was also underway by Everett Dietrick and Dr. Blair Bartlett. The great discovery of this project was the devastation of biological control by high populations of "honeydew-seeding" ant interference to natural enemies. It was proven that biological control of citrus could not be economically effective without ant management. Habitat modification practices were also shown to enhance biological control.


It was during their many university field trips that the first discussions about the opportunities for marketing key predators and parasitoids were witnessed by Everett Dietrick between Prof. Harry Smith and Dr. Paul DeBach. By 1951, the feasibility of biological control was proven in most of the citrus-growing areas of the state and the opportunity should have been there. With the modern pesticide-marketing era in full swing, however, there were no commercial market openings. Also, there was a movement toward popular discredit of biological control evaluations due to several difficulties, including obstacles to research resulting from the scarcity of protected "untreated check" plots.


Help proving the feasibility for biological control, thereby hopefully stimulating a marketing opportunity, came from Howard Lorbeer, manager of the Fillmore Citrus Protective District. Mr. Lorbeer helped confirm the University of California researchers' conclusions that pest management by natural enemies served the farmer better when supported by augmentation releases of key beneficials combined with ant management. Lorbeer led the Fillmore citrus grower cooperative to decide to grow the parasites of black scale and mealybug in a small insectary production system and released them routinely into ant interference spots along with ant control. Entomologists and agriculture advisors associated with Sunkist and the Orange and Santa Barbara County Agriculture Commissions were also involved in this dialogue furthering the development of the concepts for biological control by natural enemies in citrus.


Yet, with a well-developed example of the concepts in Fillmore's orchards and trying as hard as they could, the University team could not generate support among growers for biological control programs. Fillmore Citrus Protective District has been benefiting ever since their early adoption of biological control, averaging only one spray per acre per year on all of their nearly 10,000 acres. Fillmore fruit was chosen for export because of the superior quality and lack of fruit breakdown from oil spray deposits as well as the implied lack of pesticide residues. This was the basis of the eventual development of integrated pest management.


The early 1950's was a time when pesticide marketing was "running over" biological control programs all over the world. Economic thresholds were set by comparisons against the latest set of poisons. Professor Harry Smith and Dr. Paul DeBach recognized the political problems of contesting the market forces behind pesticides. At the same time, however, research showed resistance to pesticides was increasing everywhere. In this climate, in 1950, Everett Dietrick secretly (he couldn't be open about it) started the first commercial insectary in his garage in Riverside growing Aphytis "A", a new importation that appeared to effectively control red scale in the hot dry inland valley climate of Riverside. The first and only customer was Mr. Stover, a Director on the Board of a large citrus production company, on a 20-acre block of his lemons.


The success of this first commercial biocontrol program was due to the habitat management component, i.e. mulching to deter ant interference and overhead sprinklers to foster natural enemies, combined with the release of the new parasite for the California red scale. However, Everett Dietrick's aspirations toward a commercial insectary venture were put on hold when the University assigned him to an exciting new project under Dr. Robert van den Bosch to collect information about established natural enemies of California's many vegetable and field crop systems along with a review of the literature about known potentially useful exotic beneficial species. Since biological control research had concentrated on orchard crops, this project would greatly expand knowledge of insect ecology in much of the state's agriculture.


The world was being driven into pesticide addiction. Meanwhile, however, a handful of University of California researchers in an autonomous Department of Biological Control, with its own budget and space separate from the Department of Entomology, entered a most interesting and productive decade of the 1950's for the study of biological control. Much of the know-how for the future development of the biocontrol industry was developed during those years.


The First For-Profit Beneficial Insect Production Facility

    The following is the second in a series of articles outlining the history of the production and marketing of beneficial predators and parasites (mostly arthropods) for profit. Part I described the activities of University of California Department of Biological Control research scientists Professor Harry Smith and Dr. Paul DeBach that inspired Everett Dietrick to grow and supply beneficial insects commercially for the first time in 1950.


During the 1950's the conventional thought was that synthetic broad-spectrum pesticides had put an end to pest problems forever. Tax supported ladybug insectaries that had been built in many agricultural counties in California to produce and release predators of citrus pests were being closed down because of budget restrictions. The mealybug destroyer, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri Muls., that had been reared and given free to farmers for decades would no longer be available.


In 1951, Everett Dietrick collaborated with a friend, Ernest "Stubby" Green, and Douglas Green. The brothers owned Greens Pest Control in Ventura and had some investment capital and time off in the winter to start what they called Rincon Insectary. The production facility was an abandoned restaurant leased from the Faria Beach Colony on Rincon Beach a few miles north of Ventura-hence the name Rincon Insectary. Dietrick drove from Riverside to Ventura with his family on weekends to help Stubby grow mealybug destroyers.


This commercial insectary (started about the same time as Dietrick's part time Aphytis "A" [ligninesis] insectary venture in his garage in Riverside) was one of the first commercial production facilities started with venture capital to grow insects for profit. There were a few commercial collectors of Hippodamia convergens ladybugs and preying mantis egg cases at that time, but no other for-profit production insectaries. Dietrick found that he could not continue to produce his Aphytis "A" parasite for California red scale and still keep his job at the University of California, but he continued as an unpaid associate assisting the Green brothers with Rincon Insectary.


Unfortunately, Dietrick and the Greens found that the farmers would not pay for beneficials that had previously been given to them free. The only significant contracting customer was Irvine Ranch in Orange County. However, the business venture could not support a full-time entomologist at that time, so Dietrick became involved in a new research project in the university's Department of Biological Control, then under the new leadership of Curtis Clausen, retired from being the head of the USDA Beneficial Insect Investigations for many years. Clausen brought fresh ideas along with him that included conducting a survey of possible biological controls for annual crops as well as other orchard production systems besides citrus. The focus of biological control had been largely on citrus at the University of California Citrus Experiment Station.


Clausen's library of biological control literature was one of the most extensive at the time covering all cropping systems and was a help to UC researchers in finding and later bringing known potentially useful exotic beneficial species into quarantine for experimental rearing and colonization in all crops.


However, even with the statewide Department of Biological Control's own space and a separate budget that was relatively free from the pressures of chemical pesticide advocates, the research funds designated for real biological control by predators and parasites was being diverted. Microbial pesticide research producing biological pesticides, such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) became the focus. The proven original biological control, a remarkably successful ingenious use of parasites and predators to suppress pest populations, was being redefined to embrace microbial pesticides, autocidal techniques and the use of sterile males, instead of focusing on real biological control by natural enemies. Any increased funding gained for predator/parasite biological control was siphoned away, as is currently the trend with genetically engineered organisms. Funds are used for these new extensions of the definition, putting projects fitting the original definition of biological control on the back burner.


Biological control has impressive credentials that qualify it for primary consideration as the best foundation upon which to build environmentally safe, economic and durable pest control programs and it has never been given the attention that it deserves.


The Green brothers continued with Rincon Insectary, making occasional visits to Dietrick and also to Dr. Stanley Flanders who taught them how to grow Trichogramma spp. egg parasites on Sitotroga moth eggs. Green's activities continued on a small scale until they were approached in 1958 by a Mr. Stoltenburg of Canutillo, Texas, with a proposal for mass-production of a trichogramma sp. egg parasite for cotton boll-worm which he was releasing in unsprayed cotton production in the Rio Grande River basin. Stoltenburg, a cotton farmer, was raising and releasing small numbers of these Trichogramma parasites, a species that he had obtained from an insectary in Louisiana which was using them for sugarcane borers.


Stoltenburg's business developed beyond his ability to service it, so he and a local gin manager, Jack Gothard, associated with the Greens of Rincon Insectary to grow and market large numbers of Trichogramma for use by cotton farmers throughout the southwestern U.S. The product was called "Trichos" and there was a substantial market ready to develop. Dietrick was offered a job as a field representative to help develop sales. The "Tricho" wasps were grown with private capital and without contracts or promises to purchase. They were mass-produced at Rincon Insectary in Ventura and delivered to Gothard in Texas who sold and released them on demand to farmer customers. Much of the profit went to Stoltenburg as a distributor's bonus and to Gothard who released the insects and collected the money. Gothard later defaulted on payment for the insects and built his own production facility.


Dietrick's knowledge of all the insects of cotton and alfalfa that he had gained through a decade of study with Drs. Evert Schlinger and R. van den Bosch in the U.C. Biological Control Department gave him the confidence to make accurate pest management predictions and decisions. Dietrick invented the D-Vac vacuum insect sampler for those studies, which enabled the cotton insect surveys to be very thorough. The D-Vac became the standard for monitoring the progress of biological control of cotton insects and continues today as an international standard. The success of the cotton venture was due in large part to skilled, knowledgeable monitoring along with applied principles of habitat management using insights that had not yet been conceived during the earlier citrus ventures. The extensive scientific knowledge acquired during the 1950's, as part of the university's survey of insects in field crops became the foundation for an era of expansion in the early history of commercial biological control by natural enemies.


Stubby Green died of cancer shortly after 1961 and Dietrick became president of Rincon Insectary. He found willing customers in California and other southwestern cotton growing areas. Rincon Insectary diversified into growing Aphytis parasites useful in citrus and expanded production and marketing of pest management advice services that included releases of Trichogramma and other predators and parasites. Marketing insects was based on the proven pro gram of putting biological control at the forefront of our pest control strategy similar to the Fillmore Citrus Protective District model. The insectary was financed by marketing a service of "supervised control" that included beneficial insects. Farmers paid an acreage charge for advice and insects for the crop or season. Rincon entomologists regularly visited the fields and monitored the beneficial insects as well as the pests, applying beneficials and offering advice on selective pesticide applications when appropriate. Rincon Insectary thus became the employer of the first generation of what became known as "applied insect ecologists" as the industry moved into the decade of the 1960's.


Early Growth Of Commercial Biological Control

    The following is the third in a series of articles outlining the early history of the production and marketing of beneficials/predators and parasites for profit. Part 1 described the activities of University of California research scientists that led to the early efforts of Everett Dietrick to grow and supply beneficial insects commercially. Part 2 described further University contributions to the field and collaborative commercial activities during the 1950's.


The year 1960 was the first big growth year for the biological control industry. Rincon Insectary, which began in 1951, was incorporated in 1959. The following year was a time of political turmoil within projects in the University of California. The leaders of the project on biological control of the spotted alfalfa aphid, entomologists Robert van den Bosch and Evert Schlinger, were transferred to other projects on campuses away from Riverside, which had been the center of Department of Biological Control projects and funding for many decades. The successful projects were all abolished.

University biological control researcher Everett Dietrick was left without a project or a future project leader. The continuing opportunities for effective biological control research appeared to be very dim and the commercial market showed enough potential that Dietrick quit the University of California and joined his friend and collaborator Earnest M. "Stubby" Green at Rincon Insectary. In 1961, he was elected Secretary and Treasurer of the three-member Board of Directors.


Dietrick started out the early months of the summer of 1960 in the Rio Grande Valley cotton fields in Canutillo, near El Paso, and ended up the season in Nicaragua sampling cotton insects with the newly developed backpack D-Vac vacuum insect net. D-Vac Company was formed in 1960 to make and sell Dietrick's vacuum insect nets. That year he made his first sale of a backpack D-Vac in Nicaragua. Over 1500 vacuum insect samplers have been sold throughout the world since then. This sampling tool was invented for harvesting live spotted alfalfa aphids from alfalfa, but it has become a standardized sampling method used on many crops by research entomologists who know their insects generally find the D-Vac a useful tool.


The extensive experience that had been gained by vacuuming insects compared to conventional sweep net collections helped Rincon become a commercial force and develop many new insights in supervised biological control of many pests. The D-Vac vacuum insect sampler revealed information that allowed for predictions of the progress of biological control. The conventional sampling methods often showed damage as hindsight rather than providing needed information for predicting what was about to happen in the crop.


Without this thorough, current information the farmer is fearful and opts for preventive spray programs. Such calendar and preventive treatments had become commonplace, but were often applied too late. More beneficials were destroyed than were the active target pests. By the time the spray application had been called out, the crop destruction had already occurred. Natural enemies were already bringing the pests under biological control.


Dietrick's job was to persuade the growers of the costs of destroying the natural enemies that were growing and reproducing on the farm. This cost was on top of the cost of the pesticide application itself. He always included in such discussions of costs the convincing argument that the most devastating cost of all was the long-term destruction of beneficials that had been building up on the pests that could not be replaced in time for the development of the next pest crisis.


In addition to much improved methods of monitoring and better predictions that often avoided unnecessary spray applications, these years also saw firsts in augmentative releases of natural enemies. The first Trichogramma sold in California was by Dietrick to Neal Jack, a cotton grower in Imperial Valley, and the first overseas Trichogramma sale was also made by Dietrick to Mr. Hagie, a large cotton grower m Nicaragua, both in the summer of 1960. The Hagie contract was the start of over 30 years of Rincon sales of Trichogramma to Central American cotton farmers.


Extensive sampling using the D-Vac on the De Anza Land Company cotton ranch in the Borrego Valley in the low desert showed Dietrick and associates the relationship of unsprayed cotton and alfalfa hay. De Anza yields were at maximum for five years without any pesticides. Unique to this production system was the alternative-harvesting pattern of alfalfa hay plantings surrounding the cotton. Trichogramma was a key beneficial parasite, along with many other natural enemies, for cotton worms, particularly the cotton bollworm.


This experience led Rincon Insectary toward an effective commercial program, which led to more contracting with cotton farmers for biological control. Grower's Gin of Coachella Valley developed into a major Trichogramma customer with the help of Richard Morrison who was hired by Rincon Insectary in 1961 to help check the cotton. The Grower's was the site where Dietrick and Morrison proved that intensive sampling and predicting could prevent unnecessary use of pesticides in cotton and other neighboring crops in the area.


During 1961 after the untimely death of Stubby Green, the Rincon Insectary shares were divided among Stubby's brother Doug Green, his wife, Amelia, and his step-son Dewayne J. (Jack) Blehm and Everett J. Dietrick who was now the only entomologist qualified for guiding the destiny of the company. In the coming year, the company struggled financially while developing insect markets. The California red scale parasite Aphytis spp. was collected from the field and mass-produced. Fillmore Citrus Pest Control District contracted with Rincon Insectary for Aphytis in 1962 until they started their own production program. John Nickelson became an insect dealer in the cotton, tomatoes and melons in the southern Central Valley.


The market for Trichogramma in the early decade of the 1960's was growing so fast that the company needed to expand production facilities. A natural opportunity arose at a site on El Rivino Road in the Fontana area near the University of California at Riverside. Vitova Company had been started there by Dr. Stanley Flanders and his son Phillip Flanders to produce Sitotroga moths and eggs for feeding aquarium fish.


When the market for the live Sitotroga egg fish food product was not forthcoming, Everett Dietrick and Jack Blehm offered to buy half interest in Vitova Company which consisted largely of the production expertise of Dr. Flanders along with a house, two railroad box cars and three large abandoned mushroom production caves. They joined Phil Flanders as the three active partners while Stanley Flanders remained a silent fourth partner, since he still worked at the University of California at Riverside Biological Control Department. The name Vitova is a contraction of "vita ova"; Latin words for "live eggs". The remainder of the 1960's witnessed an explosion of creative activity at Vitova, Inc. and, with guidance from some University researchers, many new commercial biological control and mass insect-rearing methods were developed.


The Spread of The Biocontrol Industry 1964-1978

    The following is the fourth and final article in a series outlining the early history of the production and marketing of beneficial predators and parasites for profit. Part I described the activities of University of California Department of Biological Control research scientists leading to the first commercial insectary. Part 2 described further University contributions and collaborations with entrepreneurs during the 1950's. Part 3 covered the first growth of the biological control industry during the early 1960's.


During the 1960's people were confident about pesticide strategies. The early research findings about pesticide resistance were being gathered, but even in the late 1960's nobody paid much attention to the issue of resistance. Despite unquestioning confidence in sprays, Rincon Insectary expanded sales into Imperial Valley cotton with Everett Dietrick working with large innovative pioneering growers like John Elmore, Sr. of Desert Ranch. John Jesson and his brother became dealers of Trichogramma for many of their cotton grower clients. After hiring Charles Musgrove from the University of California with his scientific expertise, the company was able to pick up sales in West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Rincon de Mexico had been formed in 1962 and was growing Trichogramma for large cotton farmers in Los Mochis.


In addition to expansion in Trichogramma and Aphytis production and sales, more new insect production systems were developed at Vitova Insectary near the University of California at Riverside. The first mass-rearing systems and markets for green lacewing and filth fly parasitoids were developed through the talents of Max Badgeley, Ralph Scott, Ibrahim Michael, Reed Finfrock, Joe Radzik, Doyle Gibbs, Joe Ellington and many others who worked for Rincon and Vitova Insectaries. The new rearing facilities made up of twelve insulated railroad ice refrigeration cars were financed by Everett J. Dietrick and leased to Vitova Insectary.


The new biological control program for controlling filth flies was based on the research of Dr. Fred Legner in poultry farms in Riverside County. Max Badgeley and Reed Finfrock helped drive this effort and Finfrock also took up checking the citrus. Numerous employees were hired, including many whom worked part-time while attending the University, to grow insects and monitor field programs. Since none of the skills needed were taught in any school, new employees had to be taught the skills and experience with pest monitoring in biological control before they gained confidence in the programs.


Important researchers at the time included Dan Gonzales and yen Stern. Gonzales tested the Trichogramma species being used for augmentation and Stern studied habitat management planting alfalfa hay strips in cotton to trap lygus from the cotton. Alternate strip mowing of these border strips of alfalfa and resident weeds reduced damage while acting as a field insectary to increase effectiveness of biological control by natural enemies in unsprayed cotton.


The extensive work back in 1950 on beneficial insects of cotton by Robert van den Bosch and Kenneth S. Hagen had been completed and prepared for publication, but the political turmoil surrounding pest management research through the late 1950's and 1960' prevented it from being published until 1966. University of California Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin #820, Predaceous and Parasitic Arthropods in California Cotton Fields became widely circulated throughout the cotton production areas around the world and was reprinted several times on demand. It is not a "how-to" book. Biological control papers are never recipes for action, because the diversity and complexity of the interactions adds to the uncertainty. It is never exactly the same any time or any place you look. Continuous monitoring is important and population models rarely fit the real field situations that develop. There is no substitute for regular, skilled monitoring to determine the relative populations of the many insects that had been surveyed to be part of agroecosystems.


Financing expansion of the insectary with the high payroll costs of field supervisors was always a problem. Accounts receivable were always high because many farmers did not pay for insects until their crops were sold. Banks would not finance biological control purchases like they did pesticides and fertilizer. Opportunities were sought for winter markets in Mexico and Central America that would keep the insectary and employees productive for a longer season. The Rincon program for cotton was sold during a number of trips by Everett Dietrick and others to large growers and distributors in Central America and most of the cotton grown there was supplied by trichogramma from the Ventura facility.


Despite financial difficulties and many obstacles, the company always kept an open door to part-time university students and to visitors from all over the world who came to the University Agricultural Experiment Station at Riverside and also came in and learned Rincon and Vitova mass rearing techniques. Thousands of visitors were given open house tours, took photos and went back to the Soviet Union, China, Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia and South America where often the governments supported and subsidized the building of infrastructures for the production, marketing and release of beneficial insects on a much more expansive scale than in the United States.


In May 1971 there were some interested venture capitalists that funded both the merger of Rincon and Vitova Insectaries and the leasing of a new insectary site near Milpitas. The funding let Rincon-Vitova Insectaries and the leasing of a new insectary site near Milpitas. The funding let Rincon-Vitova Insectaries catch up and leap ahead. Unfortunately, the sudden introduction of the pink bollworm and subsequent ineffective eradication attempts forced changes in biological control by natural enemies in cotton. The commercial insectary had always relied on University research for the determination and development of colonies of the most suitable natural enemies to solve pest problems. The lack of sufficiently effective parasites for pink bollworm drove farmers back to broad-spectrum pesticides in low desert cotton. Most of the cotton-growing Trichogramma customers were lost as the farmers were suddenly determined to turn to spray programs for this exotic cotton pest.


Unlike in the past under the University's Statewide Department of Biological Control, the needed classical biological control research to find and establish natural enemies was not initiated. The skills to even conduct classical projects that had been routine at the turn of the century, were becoming lost for lack of funding at a time when the need was greater than ever. The commercial for-profit insectary was excluded from meeting the challenge of developing biological controls for exotic pests, while farmers repeatedly endorsed hundreds of millions of largely wasted tax dollars on so-called eradication projects. Public funding priorities for ag education, research, extension and problem-solving programs has failed to put an appropriate priority on biological control by natural enemies ever since the first marketing of pesticides as by-products of the chemical warfare inventions of World War II.


This brief account of the early development of the commercial insectary closes at the beginning of another phase of expansion of the industry starting in the late 1970's largely through the skills of former employees of Rincon-Vitova Insectaries becoming refined and proliferating at new insectaries. Forty-five years after the first commercial insectary, there are now dozens of beneficial producers around the world and scores of suppliers and hundreds of pest control advisors skilled in managing pests with little or no pesticides.


We have just mentioned a few of the hundreds of dedicated individuals who laid the foundation of the natural biocontrol industry. They did so through the support of a few pioneering farmers, a handful of courageous and dedicated researchers and a work ethic of freedom of interaction, cooperation and devotion to finding safe, economical and effective alternative biological solutions to pest problems in agriculture and throughout the environment.

Back to Top



Fillmore Citrus Protective District

Integrated Biological Pest Control

Fillmore Insectary

Fillmore, CA 93016

closed October, 2005



(reprinted with permission)


Seventy six years ago most of the citrus orchards in the Fillmore-Piru area were fumigated with hydrogen cyanide gas to control Black scale which was the major pest of the citrus in Southern California at the time. Now Black scale, Red scale and Mealybugs are being controlled in the Fillmore-Pier citrus by their natural parasites and predators that were introduced into California by the USDA and the University of California, Riverside. Most of the beneficial insects of citrus were found in Australia, Africa or Asia. They have reduced Black scale, Red Scale and other pests from major to minor pests in most of the Fillmore-Piru citrus orchards today.

The Fillmore Citrus Protective District (FCPD) is a cooperative pest control district. It is the only citrus pest control district in California that depends on beneficial insects to control citrus insect pests for its 9,000 acres.


The FCPD which operates the Fillmore Insectary was organized in 1922 as a chemical pest control district to assist the Ventura County Horticulture Commissioner in the eradication of Red scale that had been found in several orchards in Bardsdale, Fillmore, and Piru. That was the sole purpose of the FCPD for the first four years.


In 1926 the FCPD built the first Insectary in Fillmore. It was used for the rearing of the Cryptolaemus lady beetles that were used at the time to control the Citrophilus mealybug that was a very serious pest of citrus at the time.


The district's first step was to find the right person to build this insectary and organize it for the production of the crypts. Having heard of a man who was available at the Los Angeles county Insectary, members of the board from the FCPD traveled down to interview him. While there, they met another man that the Los Angeles County Insectary had no desire to release. The board suspected that this person might make the better choice. Within a matter of hours, the committee persuaded the person whom they had not intended to interview.


Accepting the position was Howard Lorbeer, a recent Entomology graduate of Pomona College. He was to a great extent responsible for the success of the District today. His innovative work has influenced the course of biological pest control in agriculture, not only here in our area, but throughout the world.


Lorbeer managed the FCPD from 1926 to 1974. By the time of his retirement, the District had established a worldwide reputation, and its program of integrated pest management was one of the more advanced in the history of pest management.


Today FCPD is reputed to be one of the most successful and largest Biological Control districts of its kind in the world. Each year people from colleges, universities, government agencies and foreign countries visit the district for informative study to implement similar programs in other areas. Our work also brings us in close contact with growers, county and state agencies.


Since 1926 the district has reared at their insectary and released in the Fillmore and Piru orchards 20 different species of beneficial insects and 5 species of predacious mites that feed on injurious mites. The two most important of these parasites are the Metaphycus helvolus and Aphytis melinus which are being reared today.


The Black scale parasite, M. Helvolus, is a very valuable parasite. Before it was introduced into California from South Africa in 1937, Black scale was the major pest of citrus in Southern California. In the Fillmore-Piru area about 80% of the orchards had to be sprayed or fumigated each year to control this pest. For the last 20 years less than 5% of the orchards in the District have been sprayed each year to control Black scale. If it were not for the work of the Black scale parasite, 90 - 95% of the orchards probably would have to be sprayed each year. Black scale is now a minor pest of the citrus in most of the acreage in the District.


When Black scale became a minor pest of citrus, Red scale took over as the No. 1 pest. It was the major pest until the Red scale parasite, A. Melinus, was introduced into California in 1957 from Pakistan and India. In 1960 it was brought to Fillmore and its currently being reared at the insectary. While Red scale continues to be a major pest in most of the areas of the state, it is now a minor pest in most of the Fillmore-Piru orchards. This year less than 1% of the total acreage in the District had to require chemical treatment. During 1986 the FCPD reared in the Fillmore Insectary and released in grower members' citrus orchards about 4 million Black scale parasites and 190 million Red scale parasites.


Biological control is not a new approach to pest control. Biological and chemical control both started in the 1870's. The difference between the two methods is that more money and time has been spent in the development of insecticides than in the search for new and better parasites and predators of injurious insects.


Through the years the District has expanded and modified its scope to meet the changing needs of agriculture in the Fillmore-Piru area. The 1990s have brought the Persea mite. This pest has severely damaged avocados in Southern California and has spread to Ventura County. The most effective long-term method to control this pest is by using the predatory mite Galendromus helveolus. The procedure to rear this predator, while time consuming, is well researched and successfully done at a few insectaries.


Fillmore Insectary provides field scouting of Avocado groves and the rearing and releasing of this predatory mite to grower members. It is believed that in time we will achieve a balance between pest mites and predator mites, which will avoid economic damage to the avocado crop.

The FCPD has discouraged the use of the highly toxic insecticides, but they are still needed to control many of our insect pests. But when biological control does work, it is by far the safest and most effective way to control pests.

Back to Top