Biopesticides the dawning of a Second Green Revolution?

Innovative Crop Health Strategies is one of five strategic focus areas for CHAP and takes centre stage in the organisation’s Changing Perceptions campaign. Changing Perceptions aims to champion the benefits of novel plant protection products including biological solutions (bio-solutions), while helping to facilitate evidence and demonstrate the on-farm value of such products. CHAP Scientific Support Coordinator Dr Alex McCormack takes a deep dive into the world of Innovative Crop Health Strategies, to look at the current status of biopesticides in the UK.

In order to champion the use of novel or alternative plant protection products, we need to try to truly understand what they are and how best to use them.

Biopesticides fall within the wider bio-solutions family, which also includes biostimulants. Unlike biostimulants, biopesticides are fully registered and approved products, and under the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE)’s definition, are categorised into four areas:

  • Pheromone and other semiochemicals

    Pheromones are used by organisms to influence the behaviour of others around them and can be used to monitor pests, for example in pheromone traps. Semiochemicals are produced by crops/organisms and can be used to attract or repel pests.

  • Microorganisms

    These are dormant or live organisms that have protective activity: examples include bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, viruses and viroids. Many biopesticides fall into this category and can act to parasitise damaging organisms or form protective barriers to prevent, or slow, crop damage.

  • Plant extracts

    These compounds, derived from plants, can be ‘raw’ or processed, for example botanical oils. They can act both directly and indirectly to deter crop pests or diseases.

  • Other novel alternative products

    These don’t fit into the categories above and will be evaluated for registration on a per-case basis.

By being regulated and approved in this way, certain standards must be met, and consistency of performance and efficacy demonstrated. This is vital for the reputation of this valuable product segment and in helping the market develop in the future.

The biopesticide journey

There is no disputing that the biopesticide industry has come a long way. In the early 2000s there were fewer than 10 products registered on the HSE database and now there are more than 50. But, many can only be used in protected cropping, with a select few offering label usage for broadacre crops such as cereals.

With so many potential benefits on offer for field crops, the question has to be asked: why isn’t uptake greater? This could be due to a variety of reasons, including regulatory barriers, lower efficacy, and higher production costs compared to synthetic pesticides. Then there are potential technical aspects to consider, as shown by AHDB’s AMBER project. But beyond the technical points, they also require a change in mindset for growers, taking more of an integrated or systems approach than purely being guided by growth stages, dates or what’s in the chemical store at that time.

As regulatory pressure increases on traditional plant protection products, along with the increased risk of resistance for the products that remain, it could be an opportunity for biopesticides to really shine within agriculture as a whole. Already projects, such as Crop Health North, have shown how biopesticides could work in our current and future cereal systems.

But more needs to be done, with a growing appetite for practical solutions and knowledge across the board, as demonstrated through engagement with biopesticide workshops that CHAP has hosted recently.

The future for biopesticides

At CHAP, we are keen to work with our partners, members and industry to advance the development of biopesticides and biorationales, alongside enabling technologies and systems to support their usage. Concepts such as decision support systems can help to elevate the use of biopesticides through timely, appropriate application, while detection sensors can improve the hit rate and targeting.

Improving how we use these technologies could offset the high cost of biopesticides; risk-based precision techniques can be used to apply them when and where they are needed most, rather than making blanket applications. Yes this has been the message for synthetic chemical products for some time, but it is the same for biopesticides too.

Incorporating biopesticides into a truly integrated crop management approach could be the answer to improving their accessibility from both a cost and understanding perspective and I have no doubt we will see this approach becoming the cornerstone of future crop protection systems.

For more information go to Fungal Biopesticide Development Lab and to see work CHAP is undertaking, have a look at the CSFB project.

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Please note, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CHAP.