Much has been written about the aims and objectives of the EU Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies and the need for the targets set therein for a “greener and healthier agriculture” system to be “science-based, technically feasible and economically sustainable” for all those involved in the food supply chain. The EU Commission agreed that this will require serious investment in research and development.
Certis Europe has for many years been focusing on the greening and expansion of its product portfolio using science-based research to deliver technically sound, sustainable and economically viable solutions in support of growers and for the benefit of consumers. Very much in tune with the new EU strategies, the company continues to invest in research and development in biorationals and has become a leading player in the sector and in the development of new biorational products.
The European crop protection market is estimated at €16 billion, of which 6% is bio products. The bio market has been growing at around 15% per annum. Due to political drivers like the Farm to Fork strategy and the EU Green Deal, that growth is expected to be at least maintained so that by 2030 biologicals could represent 15% of the market. Certis currently has biorational crop protection product sales in all sectors (speciality crops, potatoes, arable and seed treatment) amounting to an 8% share of the total bio market. To keep the Certis biorational portfolio growing at market speed, Certis is investing 35% of its innovation and development budget in new Biorational product development this year.
Substantial progress has been made in Europe over the last 20 years in terms of reducing pesticide usage and developing viable alternative solutions for the control of pests and diseases. Biologicals (biorationals and biostimulants) have brought about dramatic changes to crop protection in speciality crops, largely in protected conditions, and, though it is true that more and more products can now be positioned in open field crops, the issue of achieving acceptable levels of control of target pests or diseases with existing products has not yet been resolved. Developing biorational sustainable solutions for open field crops is a high priority for the company and fits perfectly with the European Green Deal and its Farm to Fork strategy. It is not simply a matter of transferring a product and application technology from the greenhouse to outdoor situations. Biorational solutions are generally not long-lasting, are seldom rain-fast and offer no systemic activity. Climate, the environment and the cropping system must also be factored in and here the accumulated experience and expertise of the Certis team is invaluable.
Trending changes in crop management, very much in line with climate change responses, can offer new opportunities for Biorationals to become used more. For example, in these times of global warming and fresh water scarcity, high value open field crops that offer a reasonable return on investment, such as fruit, vegetables, vines and even potatoes, are increasingly making use of drip-irrigation. We are already seeing evidence of increased use of drip irrigation in potatoes in more northerly countries such as the Netherlands and the UK, to reduce water usage and wastage. Many biorational products for the control of soil pests like nematodes, wireworm or fungi can be soil applied. The efficacy of strong conventional products can last many weeks, whereas a biorational normally degrades much more quickly and becomes ineffective after one or two weeks. However, if the Biorational products can be applied in a more sophisticated way through drip irrigation on a regular (e.g. weekly) basis, that weakness of shorter lasting efficacy suddenly becomes a positive aspect, as these will deliver no residues or less long-lasting residues in the soil. This may be a very positive trend that will continue to expand and provide a good impetus for further developments.
Methods of spraying a crop sufficiently thoroughly for a contact-acting product to be fully effective are already being worked on, but this remains an issue and more work is needed to achieve good enough coverage especially in broad-acre open field crops. However, it may also be possible to find solutions to control pest or disease attack on plants by using different cropping systems. Taking an example of change from history in the top fruit sector, we can see that apple or pear trees are now much smaller and more closely spaced than they were 20 years ago. This has allowed more cost-effective production of these fruits through the use of automated harvest systems. It has also allowed for better spray coverage, less spray wastage and therefore less impact on the environment, while control has improved. We might need to think a bit more ‘outside the box’ to develop different innovative cropping systems that will make it possible to use more optimal spraying techniques, making biorational sprays more successful through good contact and full coverage, while still delivering an economically viable yield.
It would be a huge advantage if biorationals had systemic effects, but few do. We continue to look for products that can be used in outdoor crops, last long enough to be comparable to conventional products and that are acceptable to growers’ practice. There is some light at the end of the tunnel: we do have actives that can do the job and are almost as strong as conventionals for open field crops, but they are currently some years from the market and of course there may be regulatory restrictions that will prevent or limit their use. At least we are trying.
Clearly there is still space for competitors, who have great products to bring to market. No one company can provide the whole package for all diseases and problems in the full range of crops, so we need each other, and some competition is healthy, driving innovation to the next level. Between us perhaps we can green up the world, as the politicians want, to make it a better, safer place with more biodiversity.
The Certis Europe Biorationals Innovation Team of dedicated experts and its research centres focus on the evaluation of potential new products. This year they are evaluating 26 candidate products, a balance of fungicides and insecticides, from 16 different suppliers. Of these, six products have come through from last year’s candidates for further testing and possible development. On average only half survive after the first year of trials for review in the second year. The decision to continue investing in the product and develop it further or not is normally taken after the second year. In 2021 the team will run more than 160 screening trials.
One product that has successfully come through this process is Problad, a novel, broad-spectrum biorational fungicide for use in both protected and open field cropping. First registration is expected in the EU in 2022 with others to follow. A new active substance of natural origin and a new fungicide class FRAC BM01, it has a unique, multiple mode of action and is exempt from Maximum Residue Level (MRL). It is highly effective against many plant pathogens like Botrytis, Powdery mildew, Monilia and Rice blast and authorization is initially expected for use in tomato, strawberry, vines, stone fruit and rice. A range of other crops will be added at a second stage.