The identification of fresh biological commodities that endorse sustainable agriculture is undoubtedly an impressive feat. Nevertheless, the unveiling of a distinctive product in isolation does not suffice. Equally crucial is the process of formulation for success, wherein skilled experts render the active biological component apt for application.
In fact, one of the biggest challenges for producers of bioprotectants is not identifying new products – it is formulating those products in a way that provides the solutions that farmers and growers need.
The key to success
Nature offers a huge untapped resource for biological crop protection and plant health products. However, these need to be formulated properly for optimal use. It is unfortunate that, when the movement for commercial biopesticides emerged in the 1980s, many early products failed due to sub-optimal formulation techniques that prevented full efficacy from being achieved.
Four decades later, there is a much deeper understanding by companies developing these products that formulation is the key to success.
There are thousands of microorganisms reported to be used successfully as biocontrol and around five hundred microorganisms are already commercially available.
For example, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring soil bacterium that has been proven effective against caterpillars, and since the banning of the insecticide chlorpyrifos in 2016, turf managers have increasingly turned to beneficial nematodes to control leatherjacket and chafer grub populations.
However, unlike conventional pesticides, these microscopic organisms only work under certain conditions – in fact, to obtain optimal results from their use, quite specific parameters regarding temperature, humidity and other such conditions must be considered.
For example, most fungi used as bioinsecticides or bio fungicides are most effective when humidity is above 90%, the temperature is around 25oC and ultraviolet radiation is low.
Similarly, beneficial nematodes need to be applied when light levels are low, and temperatures need to be above 8oC to ensure their effectiveness against insect targets. Most microorganisms are also very susceptible to desiccation, so they need to be protected from drying out, yet they also need to be protected from being washed away by heavy rain.
In order to maximise the effectiveness of any active compound, it must be formulated with the goal of better targeting, penetrating or protecting the plant it is intended to support, or the pest/pathogen it is intended to kill.
This typically involves the use of a variety of co-formulants – wetting agents, dispersants, emulsifiers and anti-foaming agents, for example, are commonly added to biological solutions, to enhance their performance and physical properties.
Many biologicals use excessive amounts of water, leading to run-off and loss of the active ingredient. To address this problem, co-formulants can facilitate enhanced spray coverage, while potentially allowing for a reduction in spray volume. This means more hectares can be sprayed per tank, as well as keeping more spray on the plant and less on the ground.
Wetting agents applied to the soil with beneficial nematodes can aid their movement and survival in the soil, helping them find target pests more easily and improving their efficacy. Dispersants, emulsifiers and anti-foaming agents are just as much needed for biological products as they are for their conventional chemical counterparts.
Essentially, it is vital that any co-formulants used with biological products are biocompatible. Our own research at Bionema has shown that not all co-formulants claiming to be biocompatible are in fact suited for use with biologicals. It is always worth testing your intended co-formulant to make sure it does not impact the survival or virulence of your biological.
Bionema offers such testing services if you need help with this. If necessary, we can also help in the development of co-formulants that work with your biological agent and provide the desired adjuvant effects.
There are dozens of formulation technologies from other industries – pharmaceuticals, for example – that can be applied to biological agriculture, and working with institutions involved in those technologies in other areas can open a wealth of opportunities to our own sector.
At Bionema, for example, we have been working with the University of Birmingham’s Engineering Department on microencapsulation, with some great results.
Microencapsulation of bacterial or fungal spores can protect the microorganisms from desiccation while helping them to attach and stick to the target pest or plant above ground.
Bionema’s microencapsulation formulation technology IncapsuleX™ increases efficacy by delivering biologicals in a microcapsule to the insect cuticle or plant leaves. This enhances adhesion and increases persistence on plant surfaces for improved pest and disease control.
Bionema’s IncapsuleX™ technology maintains biological stability when stored at ambient temperature; creates micro-environments to retain water for spore germination; enhances adhesion to plant surfaces; and protects biopesticides for longer persistence – resulting in improved delivery, efficacy and cost reduction.
Also available from Bionema is our Bionat™, our core unique bioinsecticide technology, inspired by fungal strains found in nature. Bionat™ is based on naturally occurring, environmentally-friendly microorganisms (insect-killing fungi) that have originated from nature and have been developed for the control of insect pests affecting the agriculture, horticulture, turf amenity, forestry and public health sectors.
The technology provides a wide range of solutions to support the needs of growers, foresters and groundkeepers by providing an alternative to chemical pesticides, thus promoting food safety, human health and the protection of the environment.
Bionema already works with some exceptional researchers within universities and private companies around the world and it promotes a culture of open and collaborative communication. As well as developing our own product ranges, we help other companies to develop and formulate their own biological solutions, using our in-house experience and expertise to help advance the sector.
Our formulation technologies can provide biological products with higher virulence, greater stability and shelf life, wider host ranges and higher kill rates. If you are looking to collaborate to innovate, then look no further – simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and one of our experts will be pleased to discuss how we can help you in developing your own formulation for success.