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Biorationals for the future

Biorationals are now a reality in outdoor as well as protected crops. ‘Sustainability’ seems to be the buzz word in agriculture these days. The concerns of consumers relating to the conventional crop protection practices of the last few decades and the desires and demands of major retailers for high quality, residue-free produce persist. At the same time the regulatory and environmental requirements imposed by the authorities continue to be stringent in protecting the interests of stakeholders. None of this is new and it has fallen largely to the industry to support growers and farmers in their drive for a sustainable and profitable future by providing effective solutions within the parameters acceptable to their customers.

Great Progress has been made over the last few decades and the sector is showing a growth rate of 15% per annum.

G4TF programmes are guaranteed to meet the stringent requirements of any European supermarket

Technologies and products have been in development to try to meet these needs for quite a few years now and the crop protection industry has been adapting accordingly. Not least among the developments has been that of biorational products (which include biopesticides, pheromones, beneficial insects and biostimulants). Great progress has been made over the last few decades and the sector is showing a growth rate of around 15% per annum.

As a result we have seen a number of major multi-national companies (e.g. Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, FMC and Arysta) and some smaller ones, acquiring companies involved in these products in the last few years to assure their presence in this market. Their intention has surely been to progress the creation and development of new biorational or combination products or rotational programmes in response to customer pressures and demands.

Regulatory requirements have proved to be more demanding than some were expecting, given the apparently relatively ‘low risk’ of biorational products. The authorities expect to see similar dossiers for biorational products or actives to those of conventional products and the detailed data required is often not available. This has led to a shortage of active substances coming through and means that the main successful developments with biorationals still seem to be in the niche markets of horticulture or organic production and, to date, the anticipated development of biorational compounds and mixes seems to have been moving forward much more slowly than the industry expected.

It is clear that the production of many protected crops is now almost entirely managed by the use of biorational solutions. Such success has led to a desire to transfer these products and programmes to outdoor crops and many trials have been undertaken in outdoor situations over a number of years. However, it seems to be difficult to find biorational products that achieve reliable performance levels that would provide economically sustainable production for the farmer and as a result very few such products have been introduced to the outdoor crops market to date successfully.

Certis Europe has been working successfully with and selling such biorational products for many years now, alongside the creation of integrated programmes with conventional chemicals. The company has built extensive knowledge in the sector and claims a clear awareness that the simple transfer of a solution that works indoors to an outdoor crop situation is unlikely to work. Climatological conditions can be a major influence on outdoor performance. Particularly in the case of microbiological products, which are living organisms, air humidity, temperature and sunlight can be critical, as well as the soil conditions required for the organisms to be effective when applied into the soil, and in an outdoor situation these factors are more difficult to control or overcome. It is therefore vital to gain an understanding of the biorational products and how they work through careful observation in order to adjust the formulation and usage according to the outdoor circumstances.

The company is continuing to invest in the purchase and development of biorationals that could be used in outdoor crops and believes that some of them will come to market, albeit mostly in niche situations. It is also investing into the development of hybrid products, combining both conventional and biological components, which it believes can be successful.

Certis already has quite a range of biorational products for protected production and several that are registered and used effectively in outdoor cropping situations in a number of countries. Examples include slug pellets based on ferric-phosphate, a salt (potassium bicarbonate) to control powdery mildew, as well as Bacillus thuringiensis and pheromone products for caterpillar and moth control in fruit and vegetables and Trichoderma as a microbial solution against soil diseases.

Indeed, in the protected fresh produce sector in Spain, Certis Europe has established an extremely successful partnership with UNICA, one of the major cooperative operations over several years now in a project ‘Growing for the Future’ (G4TF). Working closely with growers in the cooperatives that make up UNICA, Certis helped them to introduce Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programmes that provide effective control of pests and diseases in the crop with maximum use of Biorational products. Multi residue analysis conducted during the production campaign 2016 demonstrated the complete absence of chemical active substances in peppers from Cabasc (a UNICA cooperative) and just one active substance, far below the permitted of Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) (30%) in cucumbers from Cohorsan (another UNICA cooperative). This means that pepper and cucumber crops produced under the G4TF programmes are guaranteed to meet the stringent requirements of any European supermarket in terms of ‘food safety’, giving growers a clear competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Development work in the area continues in Certis and good progress is being made in bringing new biorational products to outdoor crops in the very near future. Initially they will be mainly focused on specialty crops but ultimately will expand into more major outdoor crops for the control of important pest and diseases. The research strategy includes testing in the laboratory, in semi-field situations and then in open field trials, followed by adjustments to the formulations and the use of appropriate application technology. This is not a quick process but is proving successful and is bringing results.

The benefits of such biorational products include the absence of residue issues, low risk of resistance development and increased safety for workers and the environment. Certis will be launching more products into the outdoor crops market in the next year or two including Botanigard, a biorational compound controlling pests in fruit and vegetables, and Amylo-X, a bacterial biofungicide for use in outdoor crops (fruits, vegetables and vines) in the Southern zone of the EU this year. These products are now a reality and the company is advancing its ambitions with even more products in development and soon to be ready for the market.

 Jan Mostert

Portfolio Lead, Biorationals and Horticulture, Certis Europe