In this first article of a series on BioPesticides, I focus on the interface between biological and conventional crop protection, and address issues I have experienced while mediating biology to technology-focused corporate decision-makers.
A little about my background
I am a plant scientist with a background in molecular plant biology and crop protection. 20 years ago, I worked at Copenhagen University on photosynthetic responses to stress in crops. Subsequently, I worked in Australia on molecular defence mechanisms induced by Phylloxera attack in grapevine.
At that time, biology-based crop protection strategies had not taken off commercially, so I transitioned to conventional crop protection R&D at Cheminova, later FMC.
BioPesticides have attained economic viability
During this period, public opinion as well as increasing regulatory requirements gradually closed the door of opportunity for conventional strategies, while the biological crop protection technology I had contributed to earlier began to reach commercial viability. Indeed, in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs (written during this period), Jobs is quoted as saying:
I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.
BioPesticides are effective
The efficacy of biologicals is – to a large extent – driven by inducible plant defence responses evolved over more than 100 million years. These defence responses have proven to be sufficiently efficacious to allow the evolution of a complex flora.
In recent years, efficacy trials demonstrate conclusively that biology-based crop protection strategies can attain an efficiency at least on par with conventional crop protection strategies.
With the transition from complex natural flora to modern monoculture, the kinetics of disease and pest development exploded – outpacing the evolutionary development of natural plant defence responses and requiring the development of current conventional (chemical) crop protection products.
However, although natural plant defences have not yet evolved to combat modern pest and disease pressure explosions, the evolution in our understanding of their molecular mechanisms as well as their induction has.
Mediating biology-based strategies to decision-makers
The key issue in the mediation of biology-based strategies to conventional (chemical)-based decision-makers lies in conveying the nature and complexity of biotic and abiotic factors in the timing of these mechanisms and their induction.
Too often we experience the frustration of inconsistent efficacy following the application of biologicals when disease pressures are already too high. When applied with regard for factors such as plant-response kinetics and disease pressure development, these same products prove to be highly efficacious.
Currently, reports of inconsistent efficacy are leading to either over-optimism or skepticism on the part of corporate decision makers and farmers alike. As crop protection biologists, we have a unique opportunity to mediate an understanding of the drivers of biologicals efficacy, and to ensure their implementation in the development of commercial strategies.