The Beneficial Power of the Nematode

How beneficial nematodes give growers a powerful and sustainable biological tool for targeted control of soil-dwelling pests.

{Sponsored} South Central Growers is a family-owned and operated ornamental nursery based out of Springfield, Tennessee. Tim Van der Hengst’s family purchased the business in 1990. Today, in their second generation of family ownership, they have grown from a 3-acre farm into 23 acres of covered greenhouse space and 17 acres of outdoor growing space, serving big-box chains and merchandisers throughout Tennessee and beyond. With an operation of this size, Tim and his team face a number of challenges, none bigger than the threat of soil-dwelling insects.

Insects always pose a threat to plant health, but they also pose a challenge for growers looking for targeted control without having to use neonics or other treatments that can be harmful to beneficials and pollinators. This is the challenge Tim and his team were faced with while searching for a solution to their specific insect menace—thrips. “We got to the point where we thought the thrips were reading chemistry books. Nothing we threw at them would kill them. We knew we needed to try something new,” said Tim.

After hearing about the potential benefits of nematodes, Tim took it upon himself to dig even deeper. His research led him directly to the BASF website, which armed him with the knowledge he needed to take the nematode leap. “The page was very user-friendly, and their compatibility guide showed us how we can work Nemasys® [beneficial nematodes] safely into our existing programs,” he said.

The plant most affected by the thrips threat was South Central’s Gerbera Daisies. They grow a large number of these plants every year and the thrips are extremely attracted to the flowers. “We dove in head first and started applying [Nemasys] as soon as the plants went into the ground,” said Tim. “The last three years, we have nearly been thrip free on our entire gerbera crop. Now we apply Nemasys every Tuesday, we call it nematode Tuesday, and we credit all of the results to Nemasys and the work BASF has done.”

South Central soon discovered how nematodes could help solve other insect issues. “The last year was one of the wettest years on record in Tennessee which led to a heavier volume of fungus gnats and shore flies. We started applying the Millenium® [beneficial nematodes] and saw great results there as well,” said Tim.

Beyond the pest control benefits nematodes provide, it also helped Tim and South Central improve their sustainable growing practices, specifically in terms of their MPS certification. South Central chose to become MPS certified as soon as it was launched to help their operation move towards more sustainable growing practices and improve their business relationships. “The MPS certification has helped us look at our business differently and make some very important changes,” says Tim. Since using nematodes, South Central’s MPS rating has risen to an A+, and they have been able to completely phase out the need for neonics.

“At the end of the day we want to ship the highest quality product as possible,” says Tim. “With Nemasys and Millenium, we have confidence that we are sending clean material out the door, and after three years—the results speak for themselves.”

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