Biostimulants - the emerging technology

Ornamentals Advisory Blog

There comes a point when an emerging technology moves from the ‘alternative’ to the mainstream – no longer in the hands of small manufacturers and a few early adopters but embraced by companies with the ability to develop it to a point where it’s reliable and trusted enough, and easy enough to use, for just about everyone.

That’s pretty much the situation today with biopesticides, and to a similar extent with biostimulants. The two are often mentioned in the same breath but are in fact quite different types of product with quite different uses, as we’ll discuss later.

Some would say biopesticide technology has been a long time emerging. Insecticides based on the insect-killing fungus Verticillium lecanii (now known as Lecanicillium muscarium) have been around for decades. So what’s changed? Why are we now seeing more biopesticides on the market; why are they now regarded as key elements of integrated pest and disease control programmes in their own right; and why are companies like Syngenta taking on an important role in making more available and helping growers understand how to get the best from them?

Part of the answer is the familiar story of our ever-dwindling armoury of chemical crop protection products and we’ve explored the reasons behind that in recent blogs.

As well as that, crop protection regulations now require all growers to implement integrated pest and disease management plans that have cultural and biological techniques at their heart, and to use chemical products only to prevent or control outbreaks that can’t be managed in other ways.

We’ve already reached the point where there are at least as many new biopesticides in the development pipeline as there are new chemical actives and that trend will only continue. Some are filling the gaps in pest or disease control left by the loss of approvals for some older chemical products.

We’re into a positive feedback loop, here: as the market develops so it becomes viable to invest more in R&D not just in new biopesticides and biostimulants but to refine application techniques for optimum performance.

But while these products are beginning to move into the mainstream it’s fair to say we still have a situation where not all products marketed as biopesticides or biostimulants are created equal. That’s why it’s critical to understand the difference between them and the regulations about which ones you can use for what purpose on your crop.

Don’t let anyone convince you of any ‘grey areas’ when it comes to crop protection. The only products you can use to control weeds, or manage pests and diseases, in your crop are those authorised as plant protection products and carrying a MAPP number ­and that goes for biopesticides ­­– whether they act directly on pests and pathogens or by eliciting a defence response in the plant ­– just as much as for chemical products.

Biostimulants, by contrast, are essentially nutritional, not crop protection, products. But they have a part to play in supporting crop health so we’ll have a look at the differences between biopesticides and biostimulants in more detail in the next two blogs.