The role of biopesticides in organic agriculture and pest management is increasing, mitigating damage from pests, diseases and other threats to seed security.
Over the past two decades, people have become more aware than ever of the impact the food we produce has on our bodies and on the world around us. More than ever, consumers are demanding that food and other products be produced in an environmentally responsible way, but they are also unwilling to compromise on quality. This shift in awareness and attitudes has been the driving force behind the organic farming revolution.
Some farmers around the world have started adopting new techniques to grow crops without toxic or otherwise dangerous substances. However, the problems faced by mass crop production that caused food producers to adopt non-organic practices in the first place remain. If more farmers are going to make the switch while maintaining the size of their yields and the health of their crops, then the agriculture industry will need innovative organic solutions.
These innovations have come in many forms, but one of the main needs of the organic farming industry is to provide non-toxic biopesticides to protect crops from diseases and organisms that could destroy them.
Pest control, biopesticides and organic food market
The growing demand for organic food has been more than enough for some food producers to make the switch. A 2018 report by Hexa Research predicts that the U.S. organic food market will reach an incredible $70.4 billion by 2025, while the global organic food market will reach $323 billion by 2024, according to a 2018 report from Zion Market Research. Today, more and more consumers are choosing organic and the result is that supply far exceeds demand. Many growers remain wary of the risks of organic production, worrying about lower yields and the risk of losing crops to pests and diseases. Organic production capacity in the United States increased by 20% between 2011 and 2018, but still represents less than 1% of total American agricultural land. As a result, US organic food companies have turned to foreign suppliers for raw products.
Biological control of diseases and pests has come a long way in recent decades, but farmers’ concern about the effectiveness of these products against agricultural risks is understandable. Going organic can be risky and complicated. Public and private funding and support for conventional agriculture still far outweigh that for organic agriculture, which requires very different practices to keep plants healthy. Transboundary plant pests and diseases have become more common in recent years and these crop destroyers can be potentially catastrophic to farmers’ livelihoods. For organic food production to finally meet strong consumer demand, farmers need reasonable assurance that switching to organic will be a wise investment.
This is why the further development of non-toxic organic bio-pesticides will be crucial for the success of organic foods. Defined as natural substances that control pests, common biopesticides include various plant extracts, vegetable oils, potassium bicarbonate, hydrogen dioxide, and phosphorous acids. Biopesticides that are recognized by the US National Organic Program (NOP) have benefits such as leaving little or no toxic residues, low risk of pests and diseases developing resistance and more. Disadvantages of today’s common biopesticides include lower efficacy and shorter persistence compared to conventional pesticides. Common biopesticides can also be more complicated to use effectively than conventional pesticides, requiring a greater degree of expertise on the part of the user.
Despite the current limitations, biopesticides are poised for tremendous growth in the coming years as organic agriculture continues to advance. A 2017 report by Markets and Markets forecasts that the global biopesticides market will grow from $2.83 billion in 2016 to $6.60 billion in 2022 with a compound annual growth rate of 15.43%. There are a number of factors driving this growth, including the threat of pest resistance to conventional pesticides, faster regulatory approval of non-toxic substances, low raw material costs, and most importantly, growing boom in the organic food industry.
Agribusiness is not the only agriculture industry that will drive growth in the biological biopesticides market. The emerging legal cannabis industry is also driving demand for organic, non-toxic agricultural innovation. Like food, cannabis crops require robust pest control systems to prevent pests and disease. Like food, cannabis in legal jurisdictions like Canada is heavily regulated for consumer health.
Brassica as a pest control
The demand for reliable, inexpensive and non-toxic biopesticides is driving many innovations in the field. Brassica, a genus in the mustard family, is a promising biopesticide now being seriously considered for organic food and cannabis spaces. The organic compounds contained in the brassica plant have been shown to be beneficial for agricultural production. Brassica has not yet been commercialized as a biopesticide, but a Canadian agricultural biotechnology company MustGrow Biologics (CSE:MGRO) explored how the plant’s natural mechanisms work against nematodes, fusarium, botrytis, powdery mildew, verticillium, pythium and other fungal diseases and pests and whether it can be applied to mass agricultural production . The company has developed a proprietary method to isolate glucosinolate and enzymes from the plant for trials and commercial production in the near future. To date, the more than 110 independent field trials that have been conducted on Brassica MustGrow’s technology have shown strong potential for higher crop yields and improved grower return on investment.
One of the main advantages of brassica as a commercial biopesticide is its affordability and availability, especially in Canada, where 28% of the world’s mustard crop is produced. This means that with Brassica, North American Canadian agricultural industries have ready access to an abundant, inexpensive and above all effective biological biopesticide.
The organic food market is already huge, but the supply is far behind the demand. One of the main factors holding back organic agricultural production has been the reluctance of farmers to make a lucrative but potentially risky transition. The introduction of inexpensive and effective biopesticides from plant sources like brassica has the potential to make this transition less daunting, allowing the food industry to produce healthier and more environmentally responsible crops with less risk.
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