A 'Sting' Operation of a Different Kind
By Pam Carrothers
Do you have a fly-control problem? What is inside these buildings could be the answer. These barns contain millions of parasitic wasps, just waiting for the chance to fulfill their reproductive destiny. "Every insect has its natural enemy," says Frank Junfin owner of Kunafin Trichogramma Insectary of Quemado, Texas; just a stone's throw from the Rio Grande River on the border between Texas and Mexico. Every year, Kunafin, helps Mother Nature along by providing just enough 'enemies' to agribusiness across the country to keep flies and other pests under control. Mother Nature provided the inspiration, but she certainly has not done all the work.
Each spring, just as most fly populations are gearing up for reproduction, the Junfins are gearing up as well to take on the massive problem of fly control with diaries and commercial feedyards across the United States. A representative from Kunafin visits with each operation by phone or by onsite visitation to determine its individual needs. Biological pest control varies, depending on the size and condition of the operation, existing fly population, and the surrounding environment. A Biological Integrated Insect control Program (BIIC) is most effective if begun as soon as the first generation of over -wintered files begin to appear. For most of the United States, that means early Spring. An average female fly can produce 5,000 eggs in her life span. Their eggs hatch and develop into full adults in 7 to 10 days to complete the cycle. So it is essential that large numbers of fly parasites be released at specific times to balance the massive numbers of flies.
Basically, bags of USDA-approved parasitic wasps are distributed in specific areas throughout the dairy or feedyard. Samples will be taken from time to time to recover species and to test parasitation.
About The Wasp
The parasitic wasp (about 1/8" in length) deposits an egg inside the fly pupae, using its 'stinger' called an ovipositor. That egg eventually hatches into a larva which feeds on the immature fly, developing into its own pupae. It emerges as an adult wasp, thereby interrupting the fly reproductive cycle. The mature wasp, which naturally occurs in nature, is completely harmless to animals and humans. It will lay from 6 to 350 eggs per day and take 2 to 4 weeks to mature. Because of the difference in wasp and fly life cycles, additional weekly releases of parasites is most effective. Kunafin custom designs an overall program which includes manure management, some pesticides, such as fly bait for adult migratory flies (which parasites do not affect.) Due to the migratory nature of flies, it is sometimes difficult to predict how many parasites will be needed as the situation can change quickly. Migratory flies often travel for many miles attracted by the smell of manure, seeking food and breeding conditions; they sometimes migrate in from surrounding areas.
The idea of Biological Control has been around for decades but was not used exclusively, in the past, due to the availability and effectiveness of pesticides. Joe Junfin, Frank's father, a native of Russia, immigrated to Texas in 1956. He was instrumental in successfully establishing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with the release of beneficial insects on over 25,000 acres of cotton in the Winter Garden area, making the term "IPM" very popular. He loved entomology and believed in economics. He wanted to find a way "...to put money back in the producer's pocket." He discovered that the addition of beneficial insects reduced the dependence on insecticides, thereby preserving the pesticides that were proven, labeled and safe. Junfin felt that the chemicals' effectiveness could be reserved by not over-using them, as insects eventually develop resistances to most chemicals.
Frank a graduate of Texas A & M with a degree in entomology, and Adele, a registered nurse have expanded his father's work with beneficial insects in the south Texas area. Approximately 17 years ago, Frank experimented with a local cattle feedyard and was very successful in controlling flies, one of the biggest problems in a feedyard. Soon, word spread of their success and the same methods were applied at a dairy in San Angelo,
Texas. The Junfins found that not only do the animals have less irritation, but have a greater chance for increased milk production when pests are controlled biologically, Adele, deemed the "nurse of bugs" began to visit other dairies several years ago, and the business has been able to expand into this area because of her work. By evaluations, applying beneficial insects and consulting, she has built a reputation as a self-made entomologist, among dairy producers throughout the United States. Milking operations will vary from 20 head to over 10,000 head.
It may sound easy, but it has been difficult at times. They are constantly traveling and researching new ideas and new methods based on the needs of their customers. Misinformation is often one of the main obstacles to the public's understanding of Biological Integrated Insect Control. Educating the customer as to their role in the process is a very important part of a BIIC program, Kunafin tries to gear pest control for each individual operation whatever that may entail. Conditions for control can always change, often it takes time, and the Junfin's stress that when working with nature, as amazing as it is, it is not instant. There is no specific formula or prescription, but the experience of the Junfin family over the last 30 years has provided them with enough information to determine most operation's needs.
Frank and Adele share a love in entomology, instilled by Joe and believe in hard work. They credit much of their education over the past 17 years to hands on field experience, mainly "...being in the manure." Also much credit should be given to university research centers, land grant colleges, and the USDA, which have been instrumental in providing positive research towards the use of biological control.
Uppermost in the minds of the people at Kunafin is service. It takes time and hard work to develop a complete program to benefit the individual customer. "We want to service the customers we have well, expand our business a little at a time and maintain our most important goal: an effective, economical, and safe alternative to pest control for any agri-business."