Why It Is Time to Bet Big on Biocontrol Solutions

December 21, 2021 |

By Luc Maertens, Chief Operations Officer, Biotalys

Special to The Digest

Growers need safe, easy-to-use crop protection solutions that will reduce environmental impact while maintaining yields. As the call grows to reduce the dependency on chemical pesticides, minimize post-harvest residues and stop the surge in pathogen resistance–especially for fruit and vegetable growers–ag innovators are banking on the promise of biocontrol solutions.  Let’s explore the role sustainable biocontrol solutions will play in the future of agriculture with the results in hand of recent global field trials conducted by highly reputable U.S. public institutions.

Why Biocontrols?

Resistance is increasing, billions of dollars of crops are lost to pests each year, and trillions of tons of food produced go to waste annually despite the increasing call for global food security. While growers need better, effective alternatives to chemical pesticides that allow for increased storability to reduce the impact on our ecosystem and environment, microbials and other existing biologicals often lack consistency and efficiency and are dependent on the surrounding ecosystem–even some organic farming methods are simply not sustainable.

Protein-based biocontrol solutions, the next wave of biopesticides, offer a new way to ensure the safety of our food supply. And they are likely to quickly become a more cost-effective, long-term option than increasingly costly chemical-based solutions, keeping in mind that prices for fertilizer and phosphate are expected to reach historic levels in 2022. Biocontrols can provide fruit and vegetable growers with a novel, more sustainable rotation partner for integrated pest management programs to help control devastating diseases and pests. In fact, biologicals have a growth rate of 2-3x the traditional crop protection market, and biocontrols and biostimulants are set to take off in the next five years, commanding global sales of more than $15 billion by 2027 (according to DunhamTrimmer).

Bringing Biocontrol Solutions Into the Crop Protection Mix

With an estimated R&D cost to bring a new product to the market of around $30m representing a fraction of the cost of a traditional chemical pesticide (~$300m), the Biotalys AGROBODY Foundry™ allows for the rapid generation of innovative biocontrols to tackle a wide range of crop pests and diseases. It is therefore uniquely positioned to increase the innovation rate for food and agriculture and can generate biofungicides, bioinsecticides and biobactericides alike. The Biotalys platform takes a completely new approach to biocontrols, starting with the pest to be controlled and developing a solution for it, rather than with an existing molecule and testing for it on new target species–reducing the development time frame of eleven years for chemicals to eight years for its biocontrols.

Using its platform to develop crop and food protection agents for pre- and post-harvest applications, its revolutionary protein-based biocontrols aim to provide the effectiveness and consistency of chemicals, as well as the clean safety profile of biologicals. Its first biocontrol, Evoca™, addresses an $800m market combatting fungal diseases Botrytis and powdery mildew across berries, vines and covered crops, playing a key role in the $3B market that protects a wider variety of fruits and vegetables against key pests. As a fully-biodegradable, protein-based product, Evoca has great potential as a partner for rotation that is safe and easy to use, offering a new modality to protect against resistance and reduce environmental impact while maintaining crop yields.

Independent Field Trials Confirm the Promise of Biofungicides

Great Grapes

Our ongoing global fruit and vegetable trial program has now reached over 450 trials across multiple regions, pathogens and crops. A number of highly reputable U.S. public institutions, including the University of California Davis, the University of Florida and the California Polytechnic State University, have published their findings on the strong performance of Evoca in independent efficacy field trials in 2021.

For example, at the grapevine trials at the University of California Davis, Evoca was compared to synthetic and biological fungicides in prevention of Botrytis Fruit Rot (BFR).  Evoca, applied at three critical times (bloom, pre-closure and veraison) with an adjuvant, had the second lowest mean disease incidence of Botrytis of all the 38 treatment programs. Not mixed or rotated with any other fungicides, all three Evoca treatments performed better than the untreated control.

In the trials for powdery mildew by the same university, Evoca was included in three treatment entries across a total of 65 treatment programs in rotation with sprayable sulphur. In all three Evoca applications, no powdery mildew was observed.

Succulent Strawberries

In addition to the grape trials, public institutions also completed more independent studies with strawberries. One example being the University of Florida’s trials for both Botrytis fruit rot (BFR) and powdery mildew.

In the BFR study, Biotalys’ Evoca was assessed in six treatments including two doses of Evoca with two synthetic fungicides. The rotations with Evoca provided disease incidence levels equivalent to synthetic-only rotations and improved yields drastically over the untreated controls.

University of Florida Botrytis Trial

For the powdery mildew assessment, Biotalys entered six treatments; four treatments included rotations of Evoca with two synthetic fungicides. Similar to the findings for BFR, the rotations of Evoca with synthetic materials provided disease-incidence levels equivalent to synthetic-only rotations, and improved yields and disease reduction drastically over the untreated controls.

Betting on Biocontrols

Our extensive global trial program coupled with the independent trials in the U.S. has proven that biofungicides can consistently perform as well as established market leaders when used in integrated pest management programs, further validating both novel biocontrols like Evoca and our advanced technology platform for R&D. The next crop of protein-based biocontrols have the promise to reduce the dependency on chemical pesticides, as well as the corresponding residues in harvested produce and accumulation in soil and the environment. Offering a distinctive new tool to manage pathogen resistance development while maximizing efficiency, flexibility and safety for growers and field workers, biocontrols like Evoca will create a more sustainable food era–keeping produce fresh and reducing food loss/waste in the downstream value chain.

Pending regulatory approval, we are less than a year away from these tools being added to growers’ toolboxes in the United States (followed by the European Union), offering an effective, safe and sustainable path forward. Adding nature-based solutions like our protein-based biocontrols into current crop protection rotations will soon become a best practice as growers begin to embrace biological solutions as a critical part of their growing plans.

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