Biological crop protection and nutrition is helping agriculture adapt to changing environmental and resistance pressures and its use is likely to be integral to the future of farming.
Today, more than 40% of crops and food stores worldwide are lost to fungal disease, insects and weeds, according to Bayer, despite the established use of chemical controls in many instances. However, reduced efficacy and tighter legislation around chemicals means biological controls such as fungi, bacteria and synthesised products are paving the way to healthier and more sustainable agriculture through natural pest and disease control.
Pheromones are a form of biological control being used in several different ways to protect plants from pests, explains David Cary, executive director at the International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association. Isomate pheromone dispensers allow growers to use the most advanced technology available to manage insect populations through mating disruption, by using the insect’s own communication system to prevent breeding.
“A breakthrough in technology has allowed for the development of pheromone products which combine multiple insects’ pheromones to control a number of pests,” explains Mr Cary. Developing drone technology means the biocontrol can be delivered to specific locations for targeted application.
Combining two microbial products together is providing a targeted and accurate approach to wireworm control, he adds. ATTRACAP by Biocare releases an attractant in the form of carbon dioxide to lure the pests in and then kills them.
This reduces the need for conventional controls, potentially reducing input costs. There are also a lot of companies looking at the deployment of macro-organisms in precision agriculture, such as predatory mites and wasps, to control pests like aphids, says Mr Cary. In the micro-organism range, researchers are using a mix of beneficial bacteria to tackle fungal diseases, tailored to conditions and crop requirements, he adds.
“Botanical nematicides have also been developed and are showing a lot of success.” A plant’s natural defences can be stimulated using biologicals to fight against diseases. This is useful for arable crops as it makes them more resistant, meaning there is less need for specific treatments against fungal pathogens.
It is also anticipated a biologically produced fungicide will enter the market in the next few years, adds Mr Cary. Inatreq, from Dow Agrosciences, is the first product in more than a decade to introduce a new molecule for long-term control of disease in cereals. Targeting septoria tritici resistance in wheat, the new active is derived from a natural compound produced by fermentation.
As the first member of a new class of cereal fungicides called picolinamides, Inatreq inhibits fungal respiration in the mitochondria, what is different is its binding site which is a new target site.
A key feature is that it does not have any cross-resistance to existing chemistry, he says. It is expected to receive approval from the EU in 2018 and should be in use by 2019-2020. Another bio-fungicide, PF01 by Lesaffre, is the first to be based on yeast cells, inducing the systemic resistance of plants.
The formulation is effective against foliar diseases like downy mildew, powdery mildew, and botrytis in grapes and vegetables. There has also been a lot of work into seed treatments, including biocontrol agents and bio-stimulants which provide nutritional benefits.
Though many products may not be newly developed, they are new to use in UK arable production. Fertiactyl, a liquid root bio-stimulant from Timac, can be applied with liquid nitrogen or foliar applications to develop roots, enhance photosynthesis, increase absorption of nutrients and increase drought tolerance.
It includes humid and fluric acids, minerals and trace elements, and is targeted for application at early establishment or tillering, explains product manager Paul Tyson.
Another product, Fertileader, is suitable for application later in the season and is crucially targeted at remobilising nitrogen use in the plant to bolster grain fill.
“These can be used broadly across all arable crops as they create a hormonal response in the plant.” Arable