Brexit – are we going to give up on the idea of healthy, wholesome food?
Brexit has brought unparalleled uncertainty to industry across the UK. And it’s more than fears about trading tariffs and border controls. The EU has been responsible for some of the toughest controls on the use of pesticides in many sections of legislation it has put in place to ensure a sustainable future not just for Europe, but for the world.
Many have seen this as a bad thing, for decades’ farmers and growers have relied on relatively cheap, easy to use chemicals to protect our crops, attempting to maximise yields and keeping costs down.
Many have been found to be damaging to the environment with poisonous residues contaminating soil and indiscriminately killing beneficial insects including bees – there is an alarming decline of the world bee population with the Chinese pollinating plants by hand in 2012 – and several ‘traditional’ insecticides have been banned here.
But across the globe the situation is very different. In Africa, for example, insecticides no longer available in Europe are still on the market and the massive problem facing farmers there is that they are longer as effective as they were.
Suppliers to that market, at the Annual Biocontrol Industry Meeting (ABIM) annual conference in Basel, have suddenly become much more aware of the use of biological pest control, the use of the natural enemies of devastating pests such as vine weevil, thrips, spider mites, whitefly and aphids.
And the main reason for that is on the African continent farmers are having to use petroleum waste based pesticides at up to 5 – 8 times the recommended concentration.
Bearing in mind that these products are potentially carcinogenic, and you have to question is about the future. But the farmers say they have a choice, either to possibly die early from ingesting the chemical rich maize, corn or other products – or to die sooner because of food shortages.
At Bionema, we have been working for the past 20 years on developing natural alternatives which can not only help farmers comply legislation here, but also provide safe alternatives worldwide.
It’s a simple idea – the use of insects, and other natural organisms such as fungi, which eat other insects to provide protection for our crops. So, for example, naturally occurring microscopic worms called nematodes live in the wild by eating the larvae of specific insects. And using these nematodes in concentration on food crops has absolutely no health risk at all. The tiny animals literally eat the insect pest from the inside, and once the pest has been eliminated, the nematodes themselves die leaving no harmful residues.
So while Brexit has created uncertainty, causing deep concern across the biochemical pest control sector, and in particular in research and development, the future for these benign, natural products looks certain.
Part of Bionema’s plans, its first product is due in the market this March with another four more new novel pest control agents, included the expectation of greater restrictions across the EU – and with that an increased incentive for farmers and growers to switch to natural controls.
But from the feedback we are getting worldwide it seems that the insect pests which can destroy up to 40 per cent of food crops have developed high levels of resistance to the chemicals which we have used for decades. In 2016, the widely used pesticide Chlorpyrifos, also known by the trademark Dursban, was banned in the European Union over concerns it can damage the human nervous system when sprayed in the air, or through the consumption of foods that have been treated with it.
This has left a gap in the market, with farmers in need of an alternative…
We believe that the case for biological control is a no brainer now, why carry on pumping poison into the soil when it isn’t working.
From all the feedback we are getting worldwide it is obvious that our natural products are more effective, with far higher kill rates. And although they do require a higher level of management in their use, living organisms need greater care in handling, we can see now that whilst in the past they were considered an expensive option, now growers can see parity in the costings.
So productivity is the key going forward, keeping costs down certainly, but with the focus on reducing crop damage by harmful insects.
And whilst the UK is a tiny market for these products, Bionema has a 7 year plan to position itself as one of the major players on the world biopesticide market, with facilities already operating in India, Africa and now in Malaysia as well as its headquarters at Swansea University.
And whilst it is true that in the past kill rates have been variable, through a various but latest results showed that our products NemaTrident, a combination of cocktail all produced nearly 100% control of vine weevil and other pests compared to only 50- 60% in the currently used product.
A combination of components, nematode and wetting agent, is delivering excellent results. But the protocols for management of pest control agents is critical, and we have now established application training programmes to ensure the maximum effectiveness of any pest control management programme.
Other simple procedures can further improve performance, as can paying additional care during application, checking for the best weather conditions, ensuring the irrigation systems and delivery mechanisms crops are correct. Attention to the detail is the key of success.
So, Brexit has set us a whole new raft of potential challenges, but at Bionema we believe that there is a still a bright future for biopesticide markets. They are the way forward. We have to protect our increasingly fragile environment for future generations and the use of biopesticides can play a key role in this. And now we have proved that they can also help farmers and growers to increase both their yields and their incomes.
After more than 20 years of research the company has made real strides forward in the efficacy of natural control with a deeper understanding of the properties of different agents and how they can be made to interact together to create a single product that can be as effective as ‘mainstream’ pest control.