Nov. 2, 2017
The Crop Protection Market in Brazil is one of the most attractive among all markets in the world. With a planted area near to 60 million hectares, a tropical environment in more than 60% of its territory available for agriculture, abundant rainfall and favorable topography, Brazil has produced more than 230 million tons of grains in 2016. The total gross sales in the same period has reached US$9,6 billion.
Even during political and economic crisis, such as the one we are facing since 2014, the agribusiness continues to generate positive cash flow to the country’s trade balance. We occupy the first position as exporters of sugar, coffee, orange juice, poultry meat, cattle meat, soybean and soybean oil, and the second position for corn and soybean meal.
But the same environment that represents an advantage to agriculture is an advantage to plant pests as well. As matter of fact, Brazilian growers plant all year round in irrigated fields, and make at least 2 crops in the same lot in dryland. By doing so, they create a “green bridge” to host all kind of diseases, insects and mites, in a non-stop life cycle. The intensive use of pesticides does not guarantee that pests will be controlled efficiently and in a cost-effective manner. On the contrary, production costs are going up year after year, and sometimes the prices of the commodities do not follow the same pathway.
From the pest control point of view, things don’t seem to be getting any better in the near future. The country monitors around 160 exotic pests which are closely threatening row crops, orchards and pastures all over the country. From time to time, one of them breaks in through the quarantine barriers, causing extensive damage to one or more crops. That was the case of the Helicoverpa armigera, discovered in the 2013/2014 season after causing to a R$1.3 billion loss in West Bahia, and from there spreading to the main production areas.
Are we prepared to face these challenges?
A new approach to crop protection
Along the last 50 years, Brazil has experimented a vertiginous growth in it´s agricultural production. This did not happen by chance; it was part of a plan executed from the sixties on, under the concept of the Green Revolution of Norman Borlaug and his team, together with research conducted by Brazilian scientists. Only during the last 27 years, the area planted to grains has grown 58%, while the production jumped more than 400%; one of the reasons for that growth was exactly the efficient protection of crops achieved by combining massive use of pesticides and genetic improvements of cultivated plants. More recently, genetic engineering has added even more technology to crop protection, by creating the Bt GMO varieties of corn, cotton and soybean.
However, together with the use of chemical pesticides came the resistance of pests. It´s not a surprise that this have happened. It is the natural selection proposed by Charles Darwin that is going on. Along these last 50 to 60 years, the industry of pesticides has released new chemical molecules to combat the resistance of insects, mites and diseases, but it seems that we are getting to the end of the line. Almost no more molecules are available, and pests do not respond to conventional treatments in the same way they did before.
The Integrated Pest Management and the use of biological active ingredients as part of that program, in all crops, represents a change in the model of agriculture being practiced in the country and seems to be the only cost-effective way to co-exist with the pests bellow the economic loss level. If in the past the IPM was considered as a myth in the extensive row-crops universe, things have changed from 2013 on, when the surge of Helicoverpa armigera exposed the fragility of the country’s pest control method.
EMBRAPA, the federal research institute for agriculture, has engaged its apparatus to hit the road with a caravan of scientists that, year after year, reached almost all relevant agricultural areas in the country, promoting the Integrated Pest Management as a rational method to combat plant pests. Not only insects, but also mites and plant diseases were told to be a perfect target to the biological control agents.
ABCBio, the Brazilian Association of Biological Control Companies has grown, and presently has as associates the 24 major companies producing biological products in Brazil. It is treated as the official representative of the companies by the federal government and regulatory agencies, and counts with the technical cooperation of the 30 most important authorities of biological control in the country.
The Integrated Pest Management, applied to all crops, seems to be the next step in the evolution of the Brazilian agriculture. But to make this a reality, a new plan must be designed and put in the fields.
Research and Education are the keys to the adoption of IPM in Brazil
The correct use of biological control agents requires training and education of sales representatives, distributors and growers. The biological control companies in Brazil are investing in Research & Development, to get to more efficient formulations and more precise positioning of the formulated product for each crop. The understanding of the mode of action of each agent on each target pest is crucial for an efficient adoption of the technology. New biological agents are being prospected to make it possible to cover a most extensive list of pests.
The use of precision agriculture is also of great importance, leading to economy of material resources and increased productivity, enhancing the efficiency of the biological control agents; as an example, we can mention the aerial release of predators or egg parasitoids in large row crop areas, or the identification of spots of soil born diseases for the application of localized, high doses of benefic fungi.
The education of all agents in the supply chain is the key to success. Only the extensive knowledge of the technology will make it possible to expand the use of biological control. If presently the biological control in Brazil represents between 1,5 to 2,0% of the crop protection market, the target is to reach 10% in the medium term. The average growth in the last 5 years reached 15% per year, showing the potential of this industry.
To accelerate the process, ABCBio has signed a contract with a startup company, called AgriLearning, to produce an online training program to be released via digital platform; the first phase is already being produced, and will be launched to the public before the new season starts, in October 2017. It is an ambitious program, designed to reach at least 2,000 professionals working in the crop protection segment in Brazil in the first year.
Special programs will also be offered to agronomy students and professors, to introduce them to high level technical concepts of biological control.
One of the most important threats to the biological control in Brazil is the existence of non-regulated companies working in the segment. Products sold in the market without registration do not offer guarantee of quality, purity and efficiency in the field. Using this kind of product can result in poor or lack of control of the target pest, and consequent discredit of the technique.
Worse than that, the dissemination of liquid fermentation in the farms, with no control of both main inoculum and fermentation process, can lead to the reproduction of non-intentional microorganisms, may be even pathogenic ones, due to contamination of media and improper management of the fermentation process. This practice should be forbidden, and the Brazilian authorities must enforce the existing laws to all agents in the market, maintaining the credibility of the industry that works according to the legislation.
In the same way we look at the past and recognize the positive impact of the Green Revolution to the tropical agriculture, the future generations will look back and consider the Biological Revolution as the movement that changed to agriculture in the world in the beginning of the 21st Century. We should be proud to be part of it.
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