In an era marked by growing concerns over the adverse effects of toxic chemicals on global pollution, biodiversity, and human health, it remains a paradox that conventional chemical consumption continues to outpace sustainable alternatives. A viable alternative, known as biocontrol (or biopesticides), has been available since the 1980s. However, its widespread adoption has been slower than expected. This article explores the factors that have hindered the wider utilization of biological control and highlights the recent developments that are changing the landscape of agriculture and pest management.
The Significance of First Impressions:
The commercialization of biocontrol technologies in the 1980s faced a significant challenge: limited understanding among farmers and end-users on how to effectively employ these innovations. Decades of reliance on chemical products led to misguided attempts to apply biologicals in a similar manner. The realization that biocontrol technology involves living organisms came too late, resulting in neglect of critical environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and other conditions that affect the efficacy of these active microbes.
Moreover, applying microbial products using conventional sprayers led to problems like clumping and equipment blockages, further diminishing their effectiveness. These early failures left a lasting negative impression, causing many users from that era to reject biocontrol methods.
What Has Changed?
Recent years have witnessed significant advancements in biocontrol technology, addressing the issues that plagued its early adoption. One pivotal development has been the recognition of the need for better-formulated products. Recognizing the delicacy of biological products, the industry has made substantial progress in formulating these products for better viability, integrity, and efficacy throughout the storage, mixing, application, and field stages.
Cutting-edge technologies, such as microencapsulation, have played a crucial role in improving biocontrol formulations. Collaborations with institutions specializing in related fields, like pharmaceuticals, have opened up new avenues for innovation. For example, Bionema has collaborated with the University of Birmingham’s Engineering Department to yield remarkable results in this regard.
Bionema’s research efforts focus on developing innovative biological agriculture technologies tailored for insect pests, diseases, and plant health management across various sectors. These technologies harness naturally occurring micro-organisms, selected and formulated to deliver specific commercial attributes, including enhanced virulence and efficacy, stability during storage and application, increased spore yields, broader host ranges, and improved kill rates.
In addition to formulation advancements, changes in agricultural education are also contributing to a better understanding of biological agriculture. The inclusion of modules on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in modern agricultural college courses is producing a new generation of farmers with a clearer understanding of biological control.
Numerous organizations and government programs worldwide are actively educating farmers and smallholders about biocontrol technologies. Providers of biological products now offer end-user support, ensuring that end-users comprehend and follow optimized storage and application methods. Bionema, for instance, provides a comprehensive consultancy service for customers, including in-person and online training programs developed by biological experts.