The self-professed “garlic capital of the world” may be in Gilroy, CA. But even though there's a stench from that garlic, it's the smell of money in the pocket to a Texas Panhandle grower.

Cecil Richardson takes pride in the oil from the herb that he uses as a virtual cure-all for his insect problems.

Richardson grows cotton, grain sorghum and wheat at Hale Center, TX. He's depended on Garlic Barrier oil to handle thrips, bollworms and other insects since the mid-'90s. “I haven't used an insecticide in more than six years,” he says, adding that he likes the garlic's environmental-friendly aspects.

Garlic Barrier is produced by Garlic Research Labs, Inc., Glendale, CA. Richardson says it works by repelling insects before they can begin damaging a crop. “The insects can't stand garlic in the plant,” he says.

The oil is tank mixed with an organic fish emulsion product, which helps fix the oil in plants. Richardson mixes 1 gallon of the garlic oil and 1 gallon of the emulsion with 98 gallons of water. Using an 18-row ground spray rig, that 100-gallon mixture will cover about 20 acres. His first application is made at the pin-head squaring of the crop. Second and third applications are made in three-week intervals.

“The garlic is systemic and takes about a week for the plant to begin absorbing it,” says Richardson. “Once it's absorbed, it begins to repel thrips, aphids, fleahoppers and other damaging insects. The main thing is to get it applied before you have an insect problem. It will not kill bugs. It just keeps them from eating the plant.”

Richardson says the cost of garlic oil and fish emulsion is about $4.50/acre, plus application fees. It can be ground or aerial sprayed. That compares to up to $10/acre for a single insecticide application, he says.

He admits that some are skeptical of the garlic program. “But the ones who use it will tell you it works,” he says, again stressing that to be effective, the garlic must be applied before there is an infestation.

That is one problem Texas Extension Entomologist Jim Leser of Lubbock has with the garlic oil. “For most pests, I feel there is no way you can justify putting out chemicals or other products before you approach the level of economic threshold,” says Leser. “It is too much of an expense to treat a field unless there is an indication there will be a damaging infestation.”

He says his tests conducted by Texas A&M entomologists of the garlic oil on cotton fields already infested with thrips, aphids or boll weevil showed no change in insect numbers or any reduction of damage to the crop. For that reason alone, he wouldn't recommend it. “The science of entomology doesn't support its use in cotton,” says Leser.

But that won't stop Richardson or others continuing with it as a preventive medicine for bad bugs. Kevin Busenlehner, Robstown, TX, is possibly garlic oil's biggest believer. He is a major Garlic Barrier distributor, the self-proclaimed “Garlic King,” and practices what he preaches. He has used it since 1994, even though he says he normally needs one insecticide application for fleahoppers on his 1,000 cotton acres.

“Once cotton plants systemically absorb the garlic oil and fish emulsion, insects are repelled,” says Busenlehner. “They go to another source of food.”

For skeptics, he suggests trying it one year on a few acres to see how it works.