Biopesticides are the Next Generation of Pest Control Products
The answer to growing food sustainably to feed a world population of 9 billion by 2050 may be biopesticides. Demand for these safer, alternative pesticides has been on the rise in the last 5 years, even through the economic crises, and is projected to significantly increase in the coming years. Growth in biopesticide sales, which currently accounts for just 11% of the total pesticide market, increased by 13% in 2010 compared to a 2% increase in synthetic pesticides. The biopesticide market is expected to reach $3 billion by 2015.
Biopesticides include natural enemies, antagonistic microorganisms, and materials derived from living organisms or from natural products. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) and its subspecies is one of the most well-known products, but other examples include tea tree oil, corn earworm virus, and kaolin clay. Also called biorationals and biologicals, these products are not just for organic use. In conventional agriculture, research is focused on developing integrated plans, combining biopesticides with reduced risk products, ultimately leading to reduced pesticide use.
The factors driving biopesticide demand range from political to environmental to the hidden costs of human health. Federal regulations have cancelled the use of many traditional products like azinphosmethyl, methyl bromide, and endosulfan. Municipalities are taking it a step further and creating a select list of allowable products in public spaces. These factors, along with others such as pest resistance, increased demand from organic farmers for more options, worker safety, and water quality, lead to the need for alternative, safe products that are effective and inexpensive.
Pesticide residue laws are also driving demand, and large food chains in the European Union are setting the trend in this regard. Some stores have implemented their own maximum residue levels (MRL) and food safety standards programs with names like “Nature’s Choice,” “Field to Fork” and “No Residue.” One food store program will only accept products that have 70% or less of the legal maximum residue limit while other stores are banning certain legal pesticide products on their produce. U.S. retailers such as Walmart are beginning to have an impact in this area, and it will only increase into the future.
Because of these and other national programs, Europe has become the largest user of biopesticides. France, for example, has launched “Ecophyto 2018,” where they hope to have a 50% reduction in pesticide use by 2018. The program will encourage growers to use biocontrol practices, promote innovation for safe and effective growing techniques, support marketing biopesticides, and educational outreach. Denmark has initiated “Green Growth” that provides financial support to developers of alternative plant protection products.
One of the factors that limits biopesticide production is that many companies that are producing biopesticides are smaller, and a large investment is required not only in registration but in demonstrating a new product to growers. To help with this, the IR-4 program in the U.S. has been instrumental in facilitating registration of sustainable pest management products for minor crops. Because of this program, the EPA approved more biopesticides than conventional products in 2010. In addition, larger companies such as Monsanto are now seeing the profits in biopesticides and investing in smaller companies to evaluate new products.
Lately, there has been plenty of research to back up efficacy claims that couldn’t be said 5 years ago. Successful products now have increased shelf life, increased residual activity, and treat a wider range of crops and pests. As a result, sales have tripled to quadrupled in the last decade. Growers, advisors, dealers, and buyers must be prepared to adjust to the changes coming down the pike, driven by world demand for larger quantities of safe, quality, residue-free food.
-Marion Murray, IPM Project Leader