25 July 2022

From precision agriculture to precision biocontrol

Carolina Fernandez, our R&D Director, gave an interview for AgriBusiness Global and responded to some interesting questions about biological crop protection, bioprecision and the challenges ahead towards a world subject to climate change.

  • Where are we now with biological crop protection from the perspective of growers/consultants/ag retailers/even the public? How is the role of these biological tools different than it was 5 years ago and where are we headed?

I personally believe that the change started probably about a decade ago, by the big companies of the sector, which started to show interest towards this alternative, and began to acquire small companies specialized in biocontrol, attracting the attention of all stakeholders.  

Since then, biocontrol products have grown to be now a significant part of the total crop protection market in fruits and vegetables. Today biological products represent about 20% of total market value in these crops  (fruits/vegetables)

We can say that today we are in the middle of a real transition to a more sustainable agriculture. It is clear that now all stakeholders recognize the value of biocontrol products, while 5 years ago there were more doubts… Growers/End users routinely use biological PPPs in many cases. Biologicals are often integrated in Application Programs with chemical products to reduce pest resistance and also to reduce the chemical residues in these crops. This has been a big-big change from 5-10 years ago.

  • How are (or how can) biological crop protection tools help with some of the many challenges ag is facing in 2022 from drought/water issues out west, to supply chain issues, to rising costs, to labor?

We should think about biocontrol not as a single biocontrol agent vs. a pest or a disease, but through a more holistic view, in the context of the plant-soil-environment ecosystem. Biocontrol measures should aim to a rebalance of this equilibrium and improve the health of the entire plant niche. In this way it is easy to think how these types of practices, including of course the use of biological PPP, could in first instance reduce the use of agrochemicals and in turn improve soil health, water issues, inputs and raw material costs and even agricultural practices.

I am proud to work with this perspective at Futureco Bioscience where we are not only working on innovative biocontrol products, but we also approximate the issue from a metagenomic integrated soil microbiome perspective.

  • How do biological crop protection tools fit with the new ag technology available now (scouting tools, new more precise application methods, etc.)

The use of drones for scouting and identifying either crop stress or pest problems is expanding globally. We see drones being used for applications of bio solutions, both by foliar sprays microbial biopesticides and also by releasing of macroorganisms.

We’ve also seen innovative companies applying aerial imagery and software analysis to measure product performance more precisely. Some companies are applying these tools to research plots to better assess their products throughout the season.

It is clear that precision agriculture is expanding: Biocontrol practices should not only take advantages of the latest technologies for improving analysis and applications, but also been inspired by them.

If we can think about precision agriculture, why we can’t think about precision biocontrol? It is clear that we should tend to be less invasive and more “on target”, avoiding chemicals or more in general broad-spectrum pesticides that could harm pollinators and other beneficial insects and microorganisms. What if we could offer a more detailed and precise form of biocontrol using “ad hoc” microorganisms consortia? Please…think about it!