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  • Writer's pictureTim Hammerich

7 Reasons Conventional Farmers Consider Biopesticides

A big part of farming is managing pests. That management could involve chemical pesticides, integrated pest management, biopesticides, or other methods. What cannot be ignored is the fact that both quality and quantity of the harvest will suffer if pests aren’t properly managed.

Organic producers, restricted from using many chemical options, have long relied on biopesticides as part of their pest management program while maintaining organic compliance.

However, many of today’s biopesticides have also been attracting the attention of conventional producers. These farmers aren’t bound by organic restrictions. They have discovered a variety of benefits that have a positive effect on their bottom line and long term sustainability of their operation.

I spoke with Dr. Pam Marrone, Founder and CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations, about the reasons both organic and conventional growers are utilizing biopesticides.

Among the many interesting takeaways from my interview with Dr. Marrone were the following 7 reasons CONVENTIONAL farmers are looking to biopesticides:

1.Effectiveness. Where as a chemical application is designed to be very effective through a single mode of action, biopesticides utilize multiple modes of action at multiple sites. Often these compounds provide a combination of results such as repelling pests, distressing their digestion or disrupting their reproduction. In some cases, the “quick kill” of the chemical application may still be needed, but can be more effective when mixed into a cocktail with these biological applications.

2. Resistance. You are likely already aware that pests are building up genetic resistance to some of our most widely used applications. These “superpests” have adapted over time so that the single mode of action of the chemical application is becoming less and less effective. This is obviously of huge concern to producers who don’t want to lose effective tools for managing these pests. Biopesticides are not as vulnerable to pests building resistance because of the multi-site mode of action mentioned in #1. This makes them a useful tool for growers to proactively prevent resistance from becoming a problem.

3. Residues. Most chemical applications have pre-harvest intervals that growers must follow. Complying with this interval means that if they have been treating a pest problem, they must stop the treatment for a certain period of time prior to harvest. But what if they develop a pest problem during that window? Production, quality, and profitability can all take a hit. Biopesticides can be effective in managing these pest problems without the barrier of the pre-harvest interval. This way, a grower can continue controlling pests right up until the time comes to harvest. Dr. Marrone mentions that this is especially important in some crops grown for export in which the residue tolerance is much lower.

4. Shelf life. One fun fact that you may not know is that biological applications are not necessarily alive. Many of these products have been optimized for shelf life and can maintain quality in the same conditions as their chemical counterparts. While there was a time that the products could not compete on shelf life, advances over the past 20 years have made real progress in this area.

5. Ease of Use. These products have been developed to be applied much in the same way as chemical applications. Also, some chemical applications have waiting periods in which employees can not re-enter a field after spraying. Not the case here. In many cases, a farmer can spray in the morning and be in the field in the afternoon.

“We try to design our products so that they can have that ease of use. Because there has been skepticism in the past of the biological category. The one thing we want to do is make sure that the ease of use is not a barrier to using the product” Dr. Pam Marrone, Marrone Bio Innovations

6. Speed to market. Biopesticides must be approved by the EPA, but the process from discovery to first placement in the market is about four years. Compare this with 11+years and hundreds of million dollars to launch a chemical product. This means the biological companies can iterate and innovate on a much quicker timeline to meet the changing demands of farmers.

7. Applicability. Whenever I get excited about any agricultural technology, someone inevitably says something to the effect of “good for them, but won’t work for me”. In many cases, they have a point. In this case, these products have been proven to work over a wide variety of crops, geographies, and pest problems. Before jumping to the “won’t work for me” conclusion, I highly suggest you check it out!

Biopesticides are not generally designed to give a “quick kill”, which limits them from taking the place of chemical application in all situations. However, Marrone and her team believe that they can serve as an integral part of pest management programs for organic and conventional growers alike.

There are still some problems that these products have yet to tackle. Weed control being a big area for growth that Marrone sees in the future. The company currently sells products for nematodes, insects, and plant diseases, and have their sights set on moving into weed control.

Marrone Bio Innovations develops biological solutions even outside of farming. In case you need one more reason to listen to the interview, check out how their molluscicide helps control invasive mollusks. Interesting stuff!

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