More Biologically Based Options Needed to Protect Crops from Pests and Reduce Impacts on Health and Environment

MADISON, Wisconsin, USA. September 30, 2019 — In a new article published in the international journal Biological Control, three authors call for increasing investment in biologically based approaches to control pests in agriculture. Despite many benefits, in 2017 biopesticides represented less than 4.5% of the overall $75 billion USD in global pesticide sales.

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Biological options are well aligned with consumer, food company and farmer goals. Advantages over conventional pesticides can include fewer residues, less persistence in the environment, and ability for farmrs and workers to get into fields for harvest and other operations immediately after application. 

According to Dr. Brian Baker, a co-author and affiliate faculty, Oregon State University, Consumers increasingly view any pesticide residue on food products as unacceptable, even when below levels considered safe by regulators. This sentiment is reflected in sales of organic products which exceeded $50 billion in the US alone last year, with organic produce representing more than 15% of all produce sold in the US.

Additional investment is needed to overcome obstacles including lack of biocontrol options for many key pests, and insufficient awareness and training on effective use of existing, proven biological options. The authors argue that public policy as well as private sector strategies must be improved to overcome these barriers and increase incentives for research, education, and adoption – including factoring the full cost of conventional pesticide use into decision-making by government agencies, food companies and farmers.

Pesticides are considererd useful tools for reducing pest-related crops losses in conventional agriculture. In many cases however, the costs of using pesticides can include more than the price paid by farmers. These costs include unintended impacts on the health of humans and beneficial organisms, environmental contamination, and development of resistance whereby a pesticide becomes no longer effective due to overuse.

For example, more than 40 weed species are now resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®. Resistance is of particular concern to organic growers, who have a very limited number of allowable pesticide options. Loss of any of those key pesticide options to resistance are likely to have costly consequences for organic farmers, food companies and consumers.
   
Biologicals include “natural enemies” of pests, such as parasites and predators that feed on pests, and biopesticides – pesticides made with living organisms found in nature, or the products of living organisms.

Greater Collaboration is needed

The authors, members of a national Organic and IPM Working Group, contend that greater collaboration between practitioners and researchers who work with organic and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can advance biological control as part of the solution to address the many challenges facing agriculture today including low crop prices, climate change and increasing market demand for low impact production practices. The article includes a review of the history and current state of organic and IPM in relation to adoption of biological control.

“This is an excellent, comprehensive paper calling out the need for more biologically based solutions in agriculture production. There is a growing movement to regenerative ag systems; biological approaches to pest management and plant health can meet all of today’s consumers requirements for transparency and sustainability while also improving growers’ bottom line.” - Pam Marrone, CEO/Founder of biopesticide producer Marrone Bio Innovations

To view the article, Biological Control and Integrated Pest Management in Organic and Conventional Systems, visit here

This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, North Central IPM Center projects AG 2012-51120-20252 and AG 2014-70006-22486

article Contacts

Brian Baker, bpb33 [at] cornell.edu
Thomas Green, ipmworks [at] ipminstitute.org
Ali Loker, ipmworks [at] ipminstitute.org
Will Fulwider, wfulwider [at] ipminstitute.org

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