29 April 2021

Biologicals Protect Crops and Enrich Soil

Richard Garnett

Consultant, CropLife International
Leicester, England, UK

By Richard Garnett

 

Today, biologicals are a small part of the crop protection market, but they are the fastest growing category of products. Biologicals are used throughout the world on a wide range of fruits, vegeta­bles, nuts, and row and field crops. They contribute to sustainable farming systems, improve crop yields and quali­ty, help manage pest resistance, expand the range of tools for growers to manage their crops and reduce their risk of exposure. In addition, biologicals are often exempted from Max­imum Residue Limits (MRLs), which makes it easier to export crops that have been treated with them.

Biology Behind Biologicals

Biological crop protection products are derived from naturally occurring organisms and substances. There are three main classes:

  • Microbials: microorganisms including bacteria, algae, fungi, protozoa (single celled organisms) or viruses
  • Biochemicals: naturally occurring substances, such as plant extracts and products of fermentation processes. They may be insecticides, fungicides, nematicides or herbicides applied as either seed treatment or directly on a crop. Semiochemicals, or insect pheromones, are a special category within this group.
  • Macrobials: live organisms such as predatory insects, mites and nematodes

Microbial and biochemical products that enhance crop performance are known as biostimulants. They stimulate natural processes to mitigate the effects of plant stresses such as drought, improve the efficiency of nutrient use and improve crop quality, whereas “biofertilizers” typically enhance nutrient uptake. By strengthening a crop’s natural defenses, biostimulants can reduce pest and disease problems as well, supporting the action of biopesticides to produce more reliable and higher yields while minimizing environmental impact.

Growing demand for such sustainable agricultural solutions has positioned biologicals for double-digit growth in the next decade.

Logic of Biologicals

The plant science industry supports an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to farming. By optimizing the use of cultural, biological, and chemical measures in particular circumstances, IPM is flexible and makes the best use of all relevant and locally available methods. It is sensitive to environmental and social needs to manage pest problems effectively and safely.

Growers use biologicals as stand-alone products or to complement chemical and genetic plant protection products in an IPM program. Biologicals address societal concerns about sustainable agriculture and consumer demand for safe, abundant and affordable food of high quality. They also can increase yields by protecting crops from disease, insect pests and competition from weeds, offering significant benefits to farmers. These advantages have led to increasing investment in the development of biologicals, with more and more reaching the marketplace. Farmers worldwide are increasingly adopting them as a fundamental component of their crop protection toolboxes. As such, they can be considered “nature-based solutions.” But while biologicals are complementary to synthetic pesticides, they cannot necessarily replace them because their performance is more sensitive to environmental and other use conditions.

Like all crop protection products, biologicals must meet high safety criteria for approval, then are stringently regulated. Most can be used in both organic and conven­tional crop production systems. Regulatory frameworks must be similarly adjusted to ensure the safety of biologicals without over-regulating them.

The crop protection industry has already spent around $10 billion in the last decade developing biologicals. Cutting edge research is leading to highly innovative products. For example, a specially selected mix of soil microbes break down crop residues after harvest to release nutrients for the following crop and products with mycorrhizal fungi contribute to plant root health and replenish depleted soils.

Biologicals not only extend farmers’ options for crop protection and growth, they also meet many societal demands regarding environmental and human safety as well as enhance the resilience of agriculture to meet the challenge of food security. Growing demand for such sustainable agricultural solutions has positioned biologicals for double-digit growth in the next decade.

Richard Garnett is a consultant to CropLife International with specialized interest in biologicals and biodiversity based in Leicester, England.

For further information on biologicals, please read What Are Biologicals And Why Are They Important? and How Cutting-Edge Biologicals Could Provide A Sustainable Solution To The World’s Food Production Challenge on the CropLife International website.

To learn more about biologicals and other crop protection innovations, please visit CropLife International’s CropTech campaign page.

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