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The future of pest control

Certis takes a look at the challenges and dynamic trends shaping the agriculture and pest control of the future

Future of pest control

The long-term future of food production is uncertain and faces a complex set of challenges. Certis Europe, offering crop protection products and expertise to the horticultural, speciality and arable crop sectors across Europe, has long held the view that to survive and thrive in the future, it needs to understand these challenges and the dynamic trends shaping the agriculture and horticulture of tomorrow.

The company has been working with Forum for the Future to address the issues and build the understanding it seeks to inform its long-term strategies. A report on Protected Cropping 2030 was prepared in 2014 and over the past 18 months the company has undertaken a broader project to help understand the future context for Certis, how that may change and how the business needs to react in a 10-15 year timeline. The outcomes of the work will help to inform corporate strategy and investment decisions in the longer term and they do certainly also provide an insight into the future of pest control.

Macro trends that are reasonably widely discussed and accepted as part of the big picture of the future will obviously impact on how crop pests and diseases will be controlled. The stringent legislative environment in Europe, arising in part from the empowerment of consumers and the rise of health as an issue for them, is likely to become more restrictive with regard to crop protection products, to the extent that it could even hamper food production. Global food (in)security in the face of a growing global population is already a much-discussed concern and global economic shifts giving rise to more competition from emerging economies and greater competition for land will do little to resolve this. In the business world, increasing expectations of business alongside mega-mergers and acquisitions, will also play a part in influencing the way the technology of the sector develops.

Given all these factors, it seems likely that the size of the market for conventional crop protection products will reduce substantially. This will be due not only to regulatory developments but also to advances in precision agriculture and the increasing use of biological solutions alongside chemical solutions. We shall probably see a shift towards prevention rather than cure and a significant shift towards highly-targeted precision application where appropriately adapted formulations and alternative technologies replace spraying to a great extent. With such relatively dramatic changes in the tools available to growers, we anticipate a need for greater service support alongside the products.

Climate change is another critical factor that is already impacting on food production and prices in Europe. Resultant water constraints, especially in southern Europe, will increase pressure on production in northern Europe and on production methods for fresh produce. At the same time, population growth and increasing demand for food and high quality crops are increasing pressures on land. Overall this is likely to engender further innovation in both production technology and crop protection techniques, including increased investment for protected cropping, intensification and new growing techniques e.g. soil-less and vertical farming, which are already happening with some success.

Looking forward Certis foresees a future for pest and weed control that encompasses precision agriculture where drones, robotics, satellite imaging and remote sensing are the norm. It is clear that farm data is growing in importance in terms of the development of technologies and the provision of crop protection solutions. Farmers will have information at their fingertips from the technology involved in every aspect of the farming operation so that they know exactly when, where and how to target pests and diseases before they take hold. The application of chemicals will be highly targeted and thus quantities used will be vastly reduced. In addition the growth of biocontrols, biofertilizers and biostimulants will allow protection to be more targeted and often bespoke for individual growers using a combination with chemistry and genetics.

Demands placed by consumers and governments on food companies will become more stringent so there will be increased pressure to reduce crop residues further and also to reduce food waste at all levels of the chain. There will be more information available to consumers at point of sale on nutrition and health as well as the quality and sustainability of production, so full transparency through the chain will be required.

The ability to understand and manipulate genetics is increasing at an unprecedented rate and increasingly sophisticated non-GMO techniques will drive change in everything from selective breeding for pest-resistance, to DNA identification of spores or soil cultures in the field, which will have far-reaching implications for crop protection. The speed of advance of use of these techniques will depend on public understanding and acceptance of their scientific possibilities. The same applies to the use of genetic modification of crops to withstand pests and diseases or of pests or their predators to protect the crops: there could be great advances in this area.

The globalization of trade and increasing transportation of crops leads to greater movement of pests and diseases and the advance of climate change could also lead to the arrival of new pests and diseases in Europe or even an increase in the severity of disease affecting crops. The reduction in the number of active ingredients available for the control of these pests and diseases may increase the risk of resistance developing to them so the availability of new solutions and technologies will be important.

James Goodman, Director of Futures and Projects at Forum for the Future concluded, “It is vital that we find ways to maintain yields and deliver sustainable nutrition to a growing population, but there are many challenges, not least climate change, soil erosion, and collapsing biodiversity. Crop protection has a vital role to play and this work shows that major changes are needed. It is critical that companies like Certis Europe think radically about their role in the sustainable food system of the future.”

The future of pest control could be set to change quite dramatically in only a 10 to 15 year horizon. Many of the trends we anticipate are already starting to happen and the technologies are developing rapidly. How quickly will farmers and growers adopt the new techniques? How much will consumers and governments influence the detail of what is actually acceptable? Only time will tell!

Kevin Price, Corporate Marketing and Communications, Certis Europe