Cover Story

Reflections of a veteran bug-battler

His valued work as a fruit industry entomologist continued long after his initial retirement.

By Judie Steeves A

fter 45 years helping farmers manage insects in their crops, Hugh Philip has finally had enough and he’s going to turn his attention to things that don’t buzz in the night—or during the day for that matter. He first retired from his position as an entomologist with the provincial agriculture ministry in Kelowna a decade ago, but continued doing consulting work with such organizations as the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, the Sterile Insect Release program and individual farmers to the end of 2017.

It all started with a summer job raising tent caterpillars for their parasitoids for the ministry of forests in Alberta. “I found it really interesting,” he recalls. So, instead of continuing his pre-veterinarian studies, he switched to agriculture and entomology, with the idea of helping growers manage the good and bad insects in their crops. He’d worked summers on his uncle’s ranch south of Kamloops, where his family had homesteaded in 1911, so agriculture was already in his blood.

In 1968 Philip received his bachelor’s degree in agriculture and two years later got his master’s in entomology then launched into a lengthy, distinguished career learning about bugs and sharing his knowledge with the agriculture industry. Along the way, he served on the boards of agrology institutes in both Alberta and B.C., as well as editing pest management newsletters, writing extension publications and working on various pest management and entomological committees. His first work was in Alberta agriculture for 18 years, but then a job opened up as entomologist in the Okanagan. Philip says it was the opportunity he’d been looking for to move back home to B.C., where he grew up.

Over the decades, he’s been part of a seismic global shift in how agriculture views pest management, from simply dealing with harmful pests by wielding the big hammer—chemical pesticides—to saving that tactic as a last resort. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) began to be considered in the late 1960s and ’70s with a turn towards multiple-tactic control of insect pests, using alternatives to control them before turning to chemicals to knock them back, he recalls. “Eventually growers had to learn different ways to manage insect pests.”

Organo-phosphates and carbonates were restricted by the

U.S. Food Quality Protection Act in the 1990s, and the parts- per-million of exposure was restricted with the knowledge that there’s a residual effect to those chemicals that adds up. “We wondered what we were going to do,” he says of the agriculture industry faced with the new reality.

Hugh Philip has been a familiar figure in B.C. orchards for more than four decades.


It would cost chemical companies an estimated $5-$10 million to get new products onto the market, so there was concern they might not, but it turned out they did make the investment in replacement products.

As a result, products came on the market that were ‘softer’ from a human health standpoint, including neonicotinoids and spinosads, Philip says.

There were considerably fewer restrictions on their use because they were less hazardous to human health. However, the price went up to cover the cost of research and development and registration, which was now global to match markets.

It became more complex for growers to figure out which countries would accept use of which products, in making decisions about exporting product. Then the problem of adaptability came up. “Insects are very adaptable and they developed resistance to some of the chemicals so we had to find alternates,” he recalls. Pear psylla, for instance, became a big problem in the Okanagan, but growers stopped using chemicals and started using soap in some cases and nothing in others. With the latter option, growers found that natural predators moved in and took care of the pest once growers stopped using the pesticides that killed the good along with the bad insects. Philip doesn’t see the issue of insect resistance to pesticides going away. “It’s inevitable, so we will always need new chemicals, or to go organic.”

But there’s a new problem now: invasive aliens. During the past 20 years there’s been a new pest arrive from elsewhere just about every year. Some are overcome by organic controls, but others won’t be so easy to deal with. One of them is the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, which has diverse tastes, destroying a wide variety of crops and native

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2018 7

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