The bugs are in the mail - The Explorer: Business

The bugs are in the mail

Horse owners, filmmakers use bio controls from Catalina company

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Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:24 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

“Your bugs are in the mail.”

That’s what customers of Arbico Organics love to hear.

“Our customers really like our bugs,” said Rick Frey, co-owner with his wife Sheri Herrera de Frey of Arbico Organics, a production and green mail-order catalog company with more than 40 employees located in Catalina.

Everybody’s going green nowadays. Arbico has been in the environmental business for more than 31 years.

“The name Arbico is derived from Arizona Biological Control. We’ve been in business since 1979,” Frey said.

It began “when a friend of my wife’s dropped a bag of bugs on our kitchen counter,” he continued. “He told us that these insects kill flies and prevent farmers from having to use pesticides.”

Frey, a biology teacher at Salpointe and Amphi high schools and a biologist for the University of Arizona, “recognized their potential immediately.

“He asked us if we thought they would sell in Arizona. I replied that we could sell them in Arizona, and the rest of the world.”

Initially, Frey went “door to door among horse people. One of my first customers was an elderly woman who was having trouble trying to corral her eight horses on a hot, dusty day. I gave her a hand corralling the horses and she bought some bugs. She also gave me the names of 20 other horse owners who became customers.”

Arbico is “an affordable green company,” he said. “For $15 a month, you can protect your horse from flies.”

Horse people aren’t the only ones using Arbico products. So is Hollywood.

“The recent movie, starring Hillary Swank called The Reaping, used our flies and maggots to portray the Biblical plagues,” Frey said. “When we use the M word —maggots, people get excited.”

The core ingredient in the philosophy of Arbico Organics is the use of biological controls instead of chemicals. Chemicals are harmful to the environment for three reasons: they are long-term and don’t go away; they are non-specific, meaning they affect everything and are unable to target just one limited area; and they can be harmful to children.

Frey remembers growing up in the 1950s and playing outside while trucks drove by spraying DDT.

“To prevent mosquitoes from breeding with the threat of the West Nile Virus, we have a bacterium that looks like granola that you can spread in the mud along a drip irrigation system, or in standing water outdoors. This bacterium kills the mosquito larvae before it turns into an adult, thereby interrupting the breeding cycle.

“In our business, timing is everything.”

Flies are a pest problem known to all horse owners. For that, Arbico uses parasitic wasps.  Wasps are mailed once a month in the pupa form. When the customer receives them, they wait until the pupa hatch. Pupae are sprinkled into the manure along the fence lines. The insects do the rest; they hatch as a parasitic wasp that doesn’t sting and doesn’t bite, but searches out maggots and kills them before they develop into flies.

“Everything we do, gives people an alternative that’s living, organic and non-chemical,” said Frey.

Employees are also available to give free advice.

“We had a customer call who had a terrible fly problem around her house,” said Catharine Smith, purchasing and sales agent. “Trying to find out why, I finally asked her what color her house was painted. ‘Yellow,’ she replied. The color yellow attracts flies. The color red repels flies, that’s why barns are painted red.”

Arbico Organics is located on five acres off Edwin Road, on the west side of the Catalina Mountains. A walk around reveals several modular buildings with employees packing and shipping, a lab for development, a 1968 AirStream trailer – “our first office” — piles of compost made from wood shavings and insect parts, a solar fly trap, made from wire screen and aluminum strips, able to trap more than 20,000 flies, and an employee vegetable garden.

Inside one of the buildings, employees prepare “sting bags,” which are filled with maggots and parasitic wasp pupa. In the corner is a refrigerator filled with beneficial insects, among them green lacewing eggs, praying mantid cocoons, nematodes and white fly parasite pupa.

Business is good. Last year, according to Frey, Arbico Organics mailed more than 100,000 postal deliveries worldwide – that’s not even counting the UPS and FedEx trucks that come and go on a daily basis. They are also open for walk-in customers and are locally well known for their organic compost made from wood shavings and insect parts, which sells by the bag or the truckload.

“Our busy season is from April through October,” said Frey. “We are looking to hire more people and began our own stimulus program with a financial award of $20 for each new customer. Our customers are people who believe in and care about the environment.”

Arbico Organics

Arbico Organics can be reached at 1-800-827-2847 or 520-825-9785. Its Web site is www.arbico-organics.com

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