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OSCII Activity C.27

Evaluation of plant essential oils for protection against blueberry insect pests

Activity summary

Modern crop protection requires solutions that are efficacious, economical, environmentally responsible, and user-friendly. Essential oils are derivatives of plant foliage or flowers. Certain essential oils have demonstrated activity against insect and mite pests, and even plant pathogens. They have been shown to be effective in agriculture, and are particularly well suited for organic crop protection. Several characteristics of essential oils that are making them an increasingly viable alternative for pest management: (1) large-scale, global production which maintains low prices and abundance of several oils; (2) multiple modes and sites of action in insects that elicit various lethal and sublethal behavioural effects; (3) with few exceptions, essential oils and their major constituents are relatively nontoxic to mammals; (4) the oils are environmentally non-persistent, which enhances their compatibility with biocontrol agents and pollinators.

Wild blueberries are one of the most important horticultural commodities in Canada. Commercial fields occupy more acreage than any other fruit crop in the country, and sales from Canadian producers exceeded $56 million in 2010, most of which was sold overseas in Japan and Germany (AAFC, 2010). In addition to increased restrictions at home, buyers and regulators in these foreign markets are increasingly sensitive to pesticide inputs and residues on the crop, driving a need for alternatives to synthetic pesticides for insect pest control. By the same token, development of organic wild blueberries is hampered by a lack of efficacious control products that fit the profile of organic agriculture. Organic production, where there are fewer competing pest management products, is viewed as the main niche market in developed countries for essential oil-based pesticides (Isman et al., 2011). Thus, there is a desire and need for the wild blueberry industry to harness safer alternatives, which at the same time opens doors for organic berry production. 

This project aims to examine commercially available and novel essential oils for organic control of insect pest in wild blueberries. Oils will be examined alone and in combination with currently available organic products against blueberry fruit fly, spanworm, flea beetle and/or leaftier. We also hope to isolate, identify, and test (laboratory and field) essential oils extracted from plants that occur naturally in Atlantic Canada, against blueberry pests.

Activity researchers

Name Affiliation
Chris Cutler, Activity Leader Dalhousie University
Nicoletta Faraone Dalhousie University
Kirk Hillier Acadia University