Market and Segment Overview
The global market for pesticides reached $68.7B in 2017 1. Biopesticides contributed to just under 5% of that to achieve a global value of $3.3Bn 2. Looking forward, biopesticide growth is expected to outpace that of synthetic pesticides during the five-year forecast period beginning in 2016; corresponding CAGRs are 14.1% and 4.8%, respectively 3. Major drivers for growth include increased regulatory scrutiny of synthetic chemistries, consumer demand for residue-free and organic food products and integrated resistance management strategies.
While many suppliers have deployed acquisition, partnership & licensing strategies to participate in this segment, their prioritization of biopesticides remains proportionate to market opportunity. This means these products’ resourcing, in terms of dollars toward discovery, development and support, is quite far off from that of their conventional counterparts. Accordingly, three interesting trends have emerged over the past decade: 1) many small startups have entered the market hoping to capture opportunities that do not meet major suppliers’ internal hurdles 2) major suppliers have entered this space though deals- likely to signal to consumers the firm’s acknowledgement of the segment and to diversify their portfolios 3) distributors are using this segment as a point of differentiation and as a tactic to recoup program paymentsA lost in the current environment of supplier consolidation.
There are two fundamental differences in how biopesticides get to market. Firstly, they generally move through development more quickly: the barriers to entry for biopesticides are significantly lower. Secondly, discovery and development costs are typically in the range of $10M - $15M compared to synthetic development costs of $300M+ 4. Biopesticides then achieve registration in around 18-months through the EPA’s biopesticide division. At this point, biopesticides are ready for market introduction.
The historical model that has been applied to conventional products has been for distributors to take fully-developed products and sell them to consumers as is (i.e. minimal additional market development is needed). This is ineffective for biopesticides because of the amount product characterization that is still to be done- this is usually conducted during the longer product development cycle of synthetics- for consumers to comfortably adopt the product. An alternative model that more evenly spreads the onus of product and market development throughout the value chain is needed for biopesticides to achieve the level of resourcing and consumer familiarity for biopesticides to succeed.
Challenges with the Paradigm
Marketing biopesticides through the current paradigm is leading to a misalignment of expectations throughout the value chain. A very simplified model of the supplier-distributor-consumer relationship (see Figure 1) details key expectations at each level. Conventional products benefit from a longer development cycle and more investment to characterize product performance. The less-stringent requirements of biopesticide registrations mean products do not require efficacy data for every crop on its EPA product label B. This contributes to the challenges of biopesticide adoption.
Figure 1: Agricultural Inputs Value Chain
Challenge #1: market readiness expectations.
Consumers and distributors expect traditional chemistry to be fully characterized, have empirical studies, and have been evaluated by major universities by the time the product is launched- and rightfully so. The specialty segments where biopesticides typically compete often do not justify the resourcing that goes into the broad-acre segments where mainstream chemistries compete and thus, biopesticide pre-launch characterization may never achieve parity.
Challenge #2: service expectations. The traditional chemistry manufacturer has core business in large segments like corn and soybeans that are profitable enough to justify much higher staffing levels of customer support roles (e.g. sales reps, technical services, product development, account management). Consequently, biopesticide firms typically have fewer specialists and this leads to disparate capabilities to fully develop products prior to launch and support products afterwards.
Challenge #3: systems to appropriately vet products and suppliers. Distributors are well versed at vetting conventional products and suppliers- this usually involves an introduction to key team members and product strategies, a data review and a guarantee that supply will not be broken. Biopesticides vastly differ from synthetic chemistry during the last step because manufacturing is quite nuanced and can be challenging. Biopesticide quality controls are often a series of qualitative markers that suggest consistency across production batches. Scale up from small laboratory-sized production batches to commercial scale is a very challenging problem to solve. Generally, distributors lack expertise to appropriately vet biopesticide suppliers.
Challenge #4: efficacy expectations. The primary purchase motivator for pesticides is efficacy, but biopesticides are often selected for their contribution toward residue and resistance management programs, shorter pre-harvest and re-entry intervals, safety to beneficials, organic certification, etc. These advantages come as a tradeoff to efficacy under heavy pressure, but it is key to understand these products are not intended for such situations. While products like Sonata (manufactured by Bayer and distributed in the U.S. by Wilbur-Ellis) offer curative activity, like many other biopesticides, they should be applied preventively or in light to moderate pest pressure. The marketer should manage expectations as much as the evaluator should place products in situations where they can succeed- even if this means slightly altering timing or practices.
Collaborative Product and Market Development as a Solution
Biopesticide adoption is in need of an innovation on how suppliers, distributors and consumers conduct product and market development. Innovations are seldom the product of a single technological discovery or the output of a single inventor, instead they are more often the combination of technologies, processes, people and ideas in ways that develop something truly game changing 5. A viable solution for biopesticide adoption is to pool resources and capabilities, across members of the value chain, while managing market readiness expectations and educating consumers on the holistic value proposition.
While there are few companies that have the resources to thoroughly develop biopesticides (e.g. Bayer-Monsanto, BASF, Corteva, etc.), there is no shortage of companies with such an intent. The challenge for the latter group is that product development thoroughness- based on current expectations- comes with a big price tag. The alternative is to network core competencies for product development to piece meal a product offering. A hypothetical example of this is engaging the screening capabilities of Company A with the manufacturing capabilities of Company B and the field development capabilities of Company C to develop a new product that is sold through company D’s retail reach.
The final component of this alternative model is to educate consumers on expectations of such products. This would involve disclosing to consumers that they are being presented with products that are still being characterized by the time they enter the market. This would also require a willingness on the consumer’s part to send feedback through the value chain for continued product characterization.
Such a solution can potentially be challenged by disputes over rights to intellectual property, contract negotiations, etc., but it represents an alternative approach to developing products that face adoption challenges in the current paradigm. Such risks can easily be justified by enabling companies to better focus on their core competencies, decreased development cost burden on each collaborator and increase of biopesticide solutions to consumers. It is incumbent upon agribusiness leaders to try an outside-of-the-box approach to raise the quality level and rate of adoption of biopesticides if we are to continue experiencing the type of growth this segment has recently enjoyed.
A: Program payments refers to the money paid by suppliers to distributors for meeting sales goals.
B: It has been my experience that the biopesticides do not require efficacy data for every crop on the label.
1 Global Pesticides Market, By Type (Synthetic Pesticides and Bio pesticides), By Application (Cereals, Fruits, Plantation Crops, Vegetables, etc.), By Formulation (Dry Formulation & Liquid formulation), By Region, Competition Forecast and Opportunities, 2013-2023. Retrieved from
2 (2017, September). Biopesticides Market (Product - Bioinsecticides, Biofungicides, Bioherbicides, Bionematicides, and PIP; Application - Cereals and Grains, Oilseeds and Pulses, Fruits and Vegetables, Nurseries, and Turf) - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Volume, Growth, Trends, and Forecast 2017 - 2025. Retrieved from https://www.transparencymarketresearch.com/pressrelease/biopesticides-market.htm
5 Hargadon, Andrew. How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth about How Companies Innovate. Harvard Business School Press, 2003.