Nov. 15, 2016
Biobest CEO Jean-Marc Vandoorne is convinced that 2016 will be yet another bumper year for his biocontrol and pollination company, headquartered in Belgium. "The trend of solid double digit growth in the last few years is continuing, and the outlook remains very strong for the years to come," says Jean-Marc. "Together with other biocontrol companies, we continue to benefit from a favorable macroenvironment, with many factors working to our advantage. Those factors will continue to drive our industry for the foreseeable future. More specifically, what's very exciting for Biobest is that years of investment in innovation are starting to pay-off. New Biobest technologies tailored to the needs of growers in our core vegetable and ornamental crops are being widely adopted and are setting new industry standards, in terms of sustainability and efficacy."
What’s driving the growth of the biocontrol industry?
Consumers want healthy food without chemical residues, produced in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. Retailers are committed to fulfill that demand. Retail chains define requirements for their suppliers accordingly, often exceeding what is merely required by law. At the same time, Europe-wide, legislation is becoming more stringent every year. National programmes to reduce pesticide use are in place. Hence, the number of chemical active ingredients on the market is shrinking rapidly. For growers that means fewer chemical options and a strong push towards biological alternatives. Even with the trend for ever-stricter legislation, certain pesticides continue to stir a lot of public debate, for example neo-nicotinoids and RoundUp, to name but two.
When authorized chemical pesticides are available, there are still many cases of pests developing resistance. That means growers often move to biological solutions for reasons of efficacy, not only out of sustainability and health-related considerations. Finally, a greenhouse with fewer chemical treatments provides an improved working environment for the grower and staff.
Jean-Marc is confident that these factors will continue to work in favor of the biocontrol industry for many years to come: “There is still so much scope for growth,” he says. “In the greenhouse vegetable industry, pretty much everyone is now applying Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Then, within IPM–which means a smart mix of biology and, if necessary, “softer” chemistry - the biological component is constantly growing. Organic production is also booming, but still remains a niche business. Biocontrol’s initial stronghold was in vegetable production, however, today ornamental growers are equally committed and the public green sector is also following suit. Compared to glasshouse production, biocontrol is not yet as well represented in field-grown crops. But things are beginning to change. We’re seeing more and more use of bumblebees for pollination and some beneficial insects in the open field, while biopesticides are already in the process of becoming a really significant market for major field crops. Biopesticides based on micro-organisms or natural substances are not only attracting interest and investment from specialized players in the biocontrol industry, but also the majoragrochemical companies have entered this arena.
In summary, biocontrol is gaining both in scope and depth. It is being applied to more and more segments of horticultural and agricultural production. Where it is applied, we usually no longer see one biocontrol tool used in isolation, in the context of a highly chemical strategy. The trend is towards a complete set of biological solutions for different pest and disease problems.
Are regulatory systems effective in promoting sustainable solutions?
When asked about areas of concern for the continued progress of biocontrol, Jean-Marc highlights the effectiveness of the regulatory practices in place, especially in Europe. “My conviction is that regulation of biocontrol products should achieve two main goals: it should ensure that products are safe for the user, the consumer and the environment, and it should give growers fast-track access to sustainable biological solutions,” he says. “Biological solutions are often quite selective and specific. When I see what we’re up to with biopesticide regulation in Europe, I have no doubts that safety concerns are well addressed. But, I am concerned that a lot of sustainable technologies, with great potential in niche sectors, will never make it to market because it’s too expensive to go through the regulatory system. I’m puzzled, also, when I see how national authorities come to very different outcomes, in spite of a supposedly uniform European framework. Several market reports expect faster growth of the biopesticide market in North America, I believe that’s due, in large part, to regulations that allow better market access for the products of dedicated biocontrol companies. European authorities have often stated their intention to promote biological solutions. I’m still hopeful that actual regulatory systems will one day follow suit.”
Innovation at the forefront
Biocontrol, by definition, uses natural organisms or substances to protect crops from pests and diseases. But that does not mean the sector is not buzzing with a lot of innovative technologies. The time when you saw patents mainly on new chemistry and very few in the biocontrol industry has gone. Even when (macro)-organisms cannot be protected, as such, there is vibrant innovation, for example on new application and release methods and production technologies.
Jean-Marc highlights some technology areas in which Biobest innovations have had a fundamental impact on biocontrol practice.
“Our launch of Nutrimite™, a food supplement for predatory mites, has been quite successful and has fundamentally changed the approach in which predatory mites are deployed for pest control,” he says. “This product enables growers to boost the development of a strong army of predators in crops in the absence of pests, with predatory mites and using Biobest’s Dyna-Mite® G-system (Euseius gallicus) or with Amblyseius swirskii, which is widely used. We literally breed them where we need them. It’s the key to achieving strong, preventative protection, and avoids the need to continuously release predatory mites, only to lose them again after a few days due to lack of a proper food sources. Many rose growers in Europe are very satisfied with this strategy, using our Dyna-Mite® G-System. In ornamentals, it’s also used with poinsettias and gerberas. Many cucumber growers in Europe and North America use Nutrimite™ in combination with swirskii. A new crop in which Nutrimite™ is gaining traction is pepper. Growers in the Netherlands use it, in combination with A. degenerans, and growers in the Mediterranean region and Mexico are starting to see this as the key to get their biocontrol programme up to speed before the crop flowers. In the past, this early crop phase was largely covered by chemical pesticides.
“Traditionally, Biobest has had its main strength in bumblebees and macro-organisms for biocontrol. We have recently put a lot of effort in biopesticides. We have built up the necessary experience with the regulatory framework that applies to biopesticides, which are different from the rules applying to beneficials. With Preferal, we have had a great bio-insecticide for quite a few years, and are now working to extend its range of applications. We’ve been successful with several recent launches, such as PMV-01, a product to protect tomato from pepino mosaic virus in the Moroccan market. We’ve launched a new biopesticide, Asperello, in the USA and are now working with this product in several European markets. Prestop® and Prestop® 4B, the latter used in combination with our well-known Flying Doctors System – where bumblebees distribute the biopesticide while pollinating – are offering a great solution for Botrytis control in strawberry and raspberry crops. Our aim is to offer growers a complete set of biological solutions for their problems. Therefore, we expect the biopesticide part of our business to grow rapidly.
Jean-Marc concludes: “I’m very satisfied that we have dedicated substantial resources to research and development. We invest in in-house research and in collaboration with other companies, and with Research Centers and Universities. We have a healthy innovation pipeline. Our teams in different markets are working very closely with growers to understand their needs and deliver continuous improvements to our offering, with a broad portfolio of natural solutions. “