Stacking the benefits

BIOLOGICALS: THE NEW FRONTIER OF PEST MANAGEMENT

there are new pest management options on the horizon, thanks to the potential of biological products that can provide seemingly limitless options for control and suppression of weeds, insects and diseases.

Field crop plant pathologist Albert Tenuta of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs says biologicals – the use of one biological organism to control another – are opening more product options for growers.

“Biologicals are the next promising frontier for pest management,” says Tenuta. “We’re only just seeing the tip of the ice burg of things that will come to market in the next number of years.”

Tenuta says biologicals have a viable place in grower production systems and offer a number of benefits. Among them, biologicals have broad appeal because they can fit with conventional, organic and other specialty growing strategies. Biologicals are also health friendly for growers handling the product and environment friendly, when compared with more traditional chemical pest control options.

With current research and technological advances, Tenuta says growers have already benefited from a number of biological products on the market, including various inoculants and seeds stacked with treatments for weeds, insects and disease. He says the pest management options are really starting to stack up on seeds so they pack a powerful punch. David Townsend, product manager for Becker Underwood agrees. He says the industry has come far, particularly in the last decade.

“With today’s seed, we have a lot of stuff going on,” Townsend says, rhyming off a list of ingredients and benefits that are now being worked into seed treatments, including fungicides, inoculants and nodulating triggers to boost root growth. “Ten years ago it was just plain seed that we were selling to growers, now there’s lot of work being done to delivery all these benefits on seed.”

Research and product development with biologicals is a strong focus for Becker Underwood. Townsend says they’re continuing to build their inoculant portfolio while exploring other areas such as bio-fungals and bio-insecticides. He says there are a number of products in the pipeline that are being put through the paces, noting it’s about two years of product research followed by an additional two years to register for market.

Because biologicals are living entities, that adds an extra level of complexity to product development, say Townsend and Tenuta. Unlike chemical pest management options, which have good data behind them to support expectations of their suppression or control levels, Tenuta says it is harder to get biologicals to perform consistently so researchers, and ultimately growers will know what to expect. “So many environmental factors can impact the overall effectiveness of these living organisms,” he says.

Tenuta says the control levels of biologicals have typically been lower   than traditional chemical products, but this is being improved in leaps and bounds. He anticipates a day where biological pest control will be as effect as chemical methods, and that were will be a place  for both modes of action in   grower strategies.

The core of their research has been delivering biological benefits through new seed treatments, Townsend says; however attention is now turning to areas such as beneficial nematodes. “A lot of the biological components are already occurring in nature,” he says. “So all we’re doing is augmenting that to a higher level.”

Townsend says there are a lot of layers in the product development process for biologicals. Organisms work differently – some promote root growth, others supress or control disease; some are broad spectrum, others are crop or pathogen specific; some have multiple modes of action, others are focused.

“As we add more stuff to the seed we need to check that everything is compatible; are there reactions, does the biological get killed by the seed treatment, and how do we deliver the biological benefit and still have a seed that runs through the planter easily,” Townsend says.

From the grower perspective, any additional legwork to incorporate biologicals is minimal. “Once you’ve ordered a particular seed treatment, the biggest thing is to watch expiry dates when you have the product at the farm.” Biologicals have a shelf life. “If you’ve stored something for a couple years and pull it out to use past expiry date the biological is likely dead by then,” Townsend says.

As for what’s coming down the pipeline, Townsend says there are a number of products that will help promote better roots, healthier plants and increased yields. Among them will be products with biological insecticidal properties for early season control of insects on a variety of crops. He adds that researchers are always working to find a way to control white mould, as well as reduce mould and toxins on grain. •