Natural crop protection products: the roadmap ahead

Photo: Canva
Photo: Canva

The roadmap ahead for natural crop protection products can perhaps be summed up with two words: exciting and competitive. To gain insight into the current and future trends surrounding green products, we consulted experts at some leading companies.

“When thinking about biocontrols, traditionally the high-value fruit and vegetable segments are top of mind, although more and more we are seeing row crop growers start to pay attention as technologies emerge that fit their needs,” says Corey Huck, global head of biologicals at Syngenta. “This is fundamentally linked to the different drivers and market realities in the various geographies.”

Availability differences

Huck notes that in Europe, the Middle East and Africa but specifically the EU, secondary standards coupled with diminishing conventional chemistry options has opened the door for biocontrols, even for those that don’t match the efficacy of conventional products for row crops or otherwise. However, “at the same time, the demanding nature of the regulatory framework and the cost to secure approvals can result in biocontrols that are available in other countries not being available for EU growers,” he explains. “The US remains a discovery powerhouse for biocontrols.”

In the US, many natural crop protection products are being developed and commercialized due to reduced or little requirements for efficacy testing, but Huck adds that “grower uptake of these technologies is not guaranteed for many reasons, including the lack of familiarity with their use and effectiveness.”

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Spraying in a apple orchard. "When thinking about biocontrols, traditionally the high-value fruit and vegetable segments are top of mind, although more and more we are seeing row crop growers start to pay attention as technologies emerge that fit their needs,” says Corey Huck, global head of biologicals at Syngenta. - Photo: Canva

Spraying in a apple orchard. “When thinking about biocontrols, traditionally the high-value fruit and vegetable segments are top of mind, although more and more we are seeing row crop growers start to pay attention as technologies emerge that fit their needs,” says Corey Huck, global head of biologicals at Syngenta. – Photo: Canva

Areas of focus

For Susanne Wasson, president of Corteva Agriscience’s Crop Protection Business Platform, key discovery areas for ‘green’ products will include broad-spectrum herbicides, insecticides and disease control stemming from novel or under-used modes of action, as well as novel broad spectrum nematicides and new nitrogen stabilizers.

According to Huck, demand for products based on biologicals (live organisms such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and Bacillus subtilis/amyloliquefaciens bacteria, trichoderma fungus etc.) is expected to drive most of the growth over the next four to seven years.

Dr. Rolf Christian Becker, Bayer’s R&D portfolio manager for Disease Management & Vegetable, also believes there will be more extensive use of the well-established technologies such as Bt, baculovirus or pheromone technology. “However, instances are being found of Bt not being effective anymore in organic farming, not surprising as this technology is 50 years old this year,” he says. “This is a reminder that pests, diseases and weeds will always continue to evolve, and we must keep pace.”

Also read: Bayer pheromone-based pest control product for citrus farms

Little growth is expected in the use of bio-herbicides, says Huck, mainly because “the current selection isn’t meeting the needs of growers, nor are [existing products] delivering on the ease of use and level of control growers expect. With that in mind, we don’t expect to see new bio-herbicides being launched in the next three to five years.”

Becker does say that there is a lot of research activity in the area of non-chemical weed control or more precise application of herbicides, but the overall focus in biological crop protection product R&D is clearly on pest and disease control.

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Insect trap baited with pheromones in an orchard. - Photo: ANP

Insect trap baited with pheromones in an orchard. – Photo: ANP

Collaboration and new approaches

New collaborations will continue to be seen in the ‘green’ product space, with many novel approaches being tested. Corteva Agriscience, for example, is working with many innovators, such as M2i Life Sciences (pheromones), Ajinomoto Dadelos Agrosolutions (biostimulants) and Simbiose (biostimulants and more).

Syngenta is working with technology experts such as DSM to co-discover disruptive biocontrol solutions, and has a dedicated team of experts focusing exclusively on foliar RNA-based biocontrols.

Becker believes collaboration is essential, and that every new approach and platform will play a vital role in developing effective ‘green’ products in the years to come. “These are often inspired by scientific tools and breakthroughs which were first developed for the pharma market before transferring into agriculture,” he says. “More venture capital went into these start-up companies and new ideas have been generated, but still need more development work to fit market needs.”

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Digital tools will play a role in the growing use of biological technologies. - Photo: Canva

Digital tools will play a role in the growing use of biological technologies. – Photo: Canva

Grower focus

In addition to efficacy innovation, it’s also believed that innovation within the ‘green’ product segment will centre on improving ease of use for growers. This might include, according to Huck, eliminating cold storage requirements and improving rain-fastness. He believes these improvements could support further growth in usage uptake, even in the absence of significant improvements in these products in terms of disease and pest control.

Odessa Hines, external affairs manager at BASF Agricultural Solutions North America, adds that digital tools will also play a role in the growing use of biological technologies, as they help growers to apply crop protection products even more precisely and can also enhance the performance of biological solutions.

Also read: Top four natural crop protection products

Hein
Treena Hein Correspondent for Canada
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