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The development of biologicals and precision ag will go hand in hand

Sanjiv Rana, editor of Agrow, talks with Jan Mostert, Head of the Biorationals Innovation Team, to discuss Certis' strategy for expansion within the biologicals sector

Jan Mostert in Biorational controlled orchard

Q         What impact do you foresee of the disruption caused by Covid-19 on the growth of biologicals this year?

 A         Issues can be expected in those crop segments where consumer interest and demand has reduced for the moment, such as flowers. Also, the long inter-continental transport of these products has stagnated or been put on hold, so growers in this sector are suffering a lot, as their costs of cropping and greenhouse maintenance continue.

A         The others are the crop segments of which the produce is more difficult to purchase, not only because of transport issues but also having issues at point of sale, such as plants in garden centres and some food producing crops, such as certain potato varieties for production of French fries. No restaurants or bars are open, so no French fry sales.

Q         Has Certis Europe experienced any disruptions in product procurement and distribution?

A         We have not encountered major issues in procurement nor in distribution.

Q         Which are Certis Europe‚Äôs biological products already launched that you think have the most potential for success?

A         Some of our products have been selling successfully for over 20 years: insecticide products based on Bacillus thuringiensis including Agree, Turex, Delfin and CoStar for the control of caterpillars; and the Beauveria bassiana product, Botanigard, against whiteflies, mites and thrips.

A         Among fungicides in our portfolio, there are: potassium bicarbonate-based products, Armicarb/Karma/Kumar; and Amylo-X based on Bacillus ameloliquifaciens, to control powdery mildew and Botrytis spp.

Q         Which are the products in the about to be launched or in the registration pipeline?

A         Eradicoat Max based on maltodextrin, which is an improved version of the 15-year old product Eradicoat/ERII, to control aphids, whiteflies and mites. The other newcomer is Neudosan, which is a fatty acid-based product, which also controls aphids, whiteflies and mites. These two will become rotation partners, giving good control but no phyto[toxicity] issues, and will also be rolled out in outdoor crops.

A         On the fungicide side, we plan to launch Valcure, which is a liquid version of Amylo-X, for the control of many soil diseases.

Q         After the end of the mega M&As that went on in the last 3-4 years, is there a possibility of another round of acquisition of niche biological companies? Or is Certis Europe focusing on organic growth?

A         Consolidation will continue, but less impactful than those by Bayer and Syngenta especially. Certis/Mitsui will also keep their eyes open for any merger or acquisition, if this can add value to the company. Of course, we will focus on organic growth, but we have to think and act wider.

Q         Most biopesticides are have been either insecticides or fungicides or nematicides, to some extent. Do you see a market for bioherbicides?

A          No major game changers are coming to market in the next 5 or even 10 years. Bio-herbicides are very difficult to develop and to be technically and commercially competitive with the conventional products.

Q         What time frame do you see for biologicals making an impact in row crops?

A         This will start probably within five years from now.

Q         Have you noticed any progress in the EU in the past few months in making registration easier for biologicals?

A         To be honest, not much. We operate Europe wide, but the regulatory system in Europe is still not well harmonised and, with Brexit, it becomes even more complex. Maybe some countries do have some examples of bioproducts being registered a bit more quickly, but with minimal impact. In principle, biologicals should indeed follow roughly the same long registration process as conventional products, to be sure they are safe for the crops, people, environment and the planet. Short cuts might be made in some cases, but must still be well based on facts.

Q         Where does precision ag fall in the scheme of things so far as biologicals expansion is concerned?

A         It would be very much a development hand in hand, as biorational products are mostly not systemic and, like microbial products, must preferably be applied as preventatively as possible. So, precision agriculture will make it possible to monitor a disease or pest early on, so that a (robotised) spray application can be done only on and around that diseased spot and preferably in a most optimal way. This combination of 24/7 monitoring and applying biorationals within 24 hours, will make a huge difference in the successful control of pests and diseases in open field crops. That will automatically enhance acceptance of these somewhat more expensive biorationals, which do not have resistance sensitivity and are, when registered properly, better for the people, environment and the planet.