‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune’
- Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
I believe that the world is at this crucial point. We stand on the brink of embracing technologies that can lead mankind to newer heights, and those from which it is less likely to drop. Sustainability, the need of the hour, is in our grasp. It is but for us to reach out and grab. Biotechnology can ensure food production for several generations to come without adversely affecting the crop, soil or populations of beneficial insects. The threat caused to human health through the indiscriminate use of chemicals may be alleviated. Rapid adoption of the ‘tide’ of biologicals will certainly lead global populations to the fortune of ending hunger, and ensuring easy availability of essential nutrition for our ever growing populations.
Biological solutions for several rampant pests are now well known, and well tried out. Companies such as ours, have invested into R&D, and are rapidly developing newer and more efficacious products for pest and nematode control.
Biocontrol is as simple as introducing natural enemies of pests into the same ecosystem. The benefits are clear, and immediate. A biological is not a broad spectrum knock-down, and will not target other beneficials. Since strains are actively selected, they are not plant pathogenic, and do not negatively affect the plant root system. Their activity in the soil releases several organic acids, which helps boost soil health and productivity.
Biological Nematode Control
Plant parasitic nematodes – small microscopic roundworms - are one of the major stresses affecting crop production. Crop problems induced by these nematodes generally occur as a result of root dysfunction, low rooting volume leading to reduced water and nutrient uptake resulting in poor utilisation efficiency.
Many nematodes are also reported to predispose plants to diseases caused by fungal, bacterial, virus pathogens which contribute to additional yield losses.
Though chemical control appears to give better control of nematodes, the development of resistance in most of the nematode species towards the chemical nematicides is evident. Synthetic nematicides, when used indiscriminately, also destroy beneficial soil fauna including entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN). Hence, a safe means for nematode control is sought after in alternatively managed farm systems.
For Nematode control, a very promising bio-product has been the nematophagus fungus, Paecilomyces lilacinus, marketed by Nico Orgo as Bioniconema.
This bio-agent colonises the root surface and is an antagonistic fungus, strongly parasitic to eggs and egg-masses and various females of plant parasitic nematodes. Fungal parasitisation can destroy up to 90% of eggs and 75%-80% of egg-masses or cysts.
The Indian Scene
In India, nematode control assumes a very great significance as crop losses due to nematodes have been rising each year on important cash and food crops. A typical smallholding farmer may not ever be aware that his field has been affected by these microscopic nematodes, as awareness is extremely poor.
Once a nematode infects a plant root, it establishes an opening from which is begins to suck out nutrition. This opens up a route for several other pests and fungi to enter the plant. The crop’s failure is as much due to these infestations as it is to the nutrients that the nematode has parasitised. Treating the fungal infestations only solves part of the problem, as the root remains open to newer invaders.
Farmers in our states do not have the wherewithal for lab studies of soil, and rely on their instincts. Unfortunately, repeat-cropping and a lack of knowledge about nematodes can cause failed crops over several years leading to huge financial burdens. Raising awareness about this microscopic pest and the avenues for its control is imperative.
Correctly identifying nematodes is a problem that is faced often in India. Extension workers armed with microscopes are best suited, but ‘culturing’ the root to identify the nematode may take up to 24 hours, and sound field knowledge and an awareness of telltale signs can be of much help.
Products such as Nico Orgo’s Bioniconema are available nationwide, at low cost, and with excellent efficacy. However, the Indian market is also flooded with duplicates and poor quality products, which erode the farmers’ trust in biocontrol. At one point, from a 100 biocontrol products tested by a university, only 6 were deemed to be good enough to show a result!
In addition to this, climatic conditions such as extremes of heat and cold can also severely degrade products which are not stored as per guidelines.
In spite of all these problem, biocontrol is a thriving market in India, and nematodes are slowly becoming well-known. The farmer has more faith in bio-products, and the efforts of companies in raising awareness are also bearing fruit.
Biological Fungal control
Fusarium, Pythium and Rhizoctonia pose the greatest risk to healthy roots and soils and, if not treated, can even cause complete failure in affected plants. Just like nematodes, they exist out-of-sight, in the root zone, and so many farmers lack the necessary awareness to combat them.
A well known solution is Trichoderma viride, offered by Nico Orgo as ‘Nicoderma’ it is one of the strongest soil-borne fungal species, and is antagonistic to several economically-important pathogens such as Rhizoctonia and Fusarium.
Additionally, it acts as a biofertiliser due to its ability to solubilise phosphates in the soil and quickly decompose organic matter. It can protect the plant through its life-cycle through mycoparasitism and antibiosis.
Due to its dual action, as a biofungicide and nutrient solubiliser, Trichoderma viride has been amongst the fastest accepted biocontrol products in India and several other parts of the world.
Another biologicals quickly gaining acceptance in India is Pseudomonas fluorescens, sold as ‘PowerAll’ by Nico Orgo.
Pseudomonas is the all-rounder of the biocontrol marketplace, and can effectively control nematodes, several species of fungi and viruses. It is non-specific in its ability to protect plants and, once established, it works against several different pathogens while inducing systemic resistance in the host plant. Pseudomonas produces secondary metabolites which play an important role in plant disease suppression and aggressively colonises the roots of the crop and suppresses disease by inhibiting phytopathogens in the soil or on the roots by competition and/or antagonism.
Biological seed treatment solutions such as Bioniconema, Nicoderma and PowerAll have shown impressive results in University trials in typical climatic conditions of western India. All three show positive trends in metrics such as germination count, seedling height , growth score and the critical one of numbers of transplantable seedlings. In addition to this, Bioniconema also shows excellent results on the Root Knot Index, an index of nematode populations.
More Articles from AgroPages' latest magazine - 2017 Biopesticide Supplement