Oct. 22, 2018
Founder and Technical director of Ecolibrium Biologicals
A growing awareness of biopesticides' favourable features, including safety and efficiency, as well as stringent legislative requirements, are driving the biopesticides market. The biopesticides market grew 24% from 2014 to 2016 globally to over $1.8 billion, finds the recently published report by Kline. The market is expected to continue growing at double-digit rates over the next decade, driven by robust growth in countries like Brazil, China, and France.
More and more companies are involved in the field of biopesticides, and in New Zealand, Ecolibrium Biologicals has been steadily working in the field for decades, becoming the benchmark company in the region. Recently, AgroPages had the opportunity to interview Stephen Ford, the company's Founder and Technical director, who showed us the current status and future plans of Ecolibrium Biologicals.
Could you please introduce Ecolibrium Biologicals briefly, such as history, business and product profile?
Ecolibrium Biologicals Ltd is an agri-biotech company based in Auckland, New Zealand, with a global perspective on the provision of sustainable pest control solutions in agriculture and horticulture.
Ecolibrium Biologicals Ltd currently researches, optimizes to scale, formulates and commercializes a range of New Zealand indigenous fungal, bacterial and metabolite based biopesticides. Ecolibrium Biologicals mission statement is "Environmental Responsibility and Food Safety through the provision of biological and biochemical solutions to ensure safe, acceptable food products while protecting the earths ecosystem on which humanity depends.”
Low public acceptance and problems emerging from synthetic chemistry are making a purely chemical approach increasingly uneconomic and unpopular. Ecolibrium Biologicals Ltd is focused on becoming the preeminent biological company, (a focused centre of excellence), within New Zealand, through the creation of a dynamic virtual research and development network of private companies, Crown Research Institutes and Universities. This network researches and leverages off New Zealand's novel biota supplying Ecolibrium Biologicals a research pipeline of partially risk mitigated new technology candidates, which are then optimized and commercialized for global markets. Ecolibrium Biologicals research priorities are focused on addressing a pressing need to develop alternatives to conventional chemical pesticides and finding biological pathways to remediation of toxins within the environment.
At present, what are the main markets of Ecolibrium Biologicals, and are there any plans to explore other markets in the next five years?
Ecolibrium Biologicals is focused locally at Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands in the commercial as well as the lawn and garden markets via Australasia’s market leaders. Recently four biopesticides and one formulation technology platform have been sold to one of China’s largest biopesticide companies allowing us to partner into the developing Chinese biopesticide market. Ecolibrium is seeking partners in Europe as well as Northern and Southern America as we have the technology platform to be disruptive, however, we will let the technology speak for itself.
In the field of product research & development, what do you think are the main advantages of Ecolibrium Biologicals? Or what experience in the R&D can you share with us?
Firstly we are proud to be kiwis, with a culture of innovation via Number 8 wire, secondly New Zealands unique biota and pristine environment are advantages. 85 million years ago a large fragment of eastern Gondwana began to break away, and the sea flooded the rift, forming the Tasman Sea. This land mass, today's New Zealand, drifted north. By 55 million years ago it was located between latitudes 60° and 50° south. It lay 2,000 kilometers from eastern Australia, a distance it has more or less maintained ever since.
New Zealand was surrounded by warm temperate to subtropical waters. As the land moved north, marine corals and tropical mangroves fringed the shores, and tropical and subtropical-type forests dominated. The land was gradually flooded by the sea and worn down by erosion. As the landscape and climate changed, plants and animals evolved or became extinct.
By 5 million years ago Australia had moved northward into a drier subtropical zone. New Zealand lay further south in cooler, moister latitudes swept by westerly winds. Glaciers advanced and retreated as the climate repeatedly cooled and warmed.
New Zealand life forms which had adapted to warm temperate and subtropical conditions rapidly became extinct, and some distinctive and unique groups evolved.
Thirdly our formulation technology platform allows for entomopathogenic fungi and bacteria to be stored at ambient conditions for 12 – 24 months shelf life maintaining viability and efficacy. Ecolibrium takes a very holistic, or a biologists approach to formulation of biologicals which incorporates resistance breaking mechanisms, while supporting the establishment and environmental protection of the formulated biota.
At present, many traditional chemical pesticide companies enter the biopesticide field through various ways such as acquisition and investment. What do you think this phenomenon has on the global biopesticide industry?
It legitimizes the biopesticide industry in way not seen prior to the acquisition of AgraQuest by Bayer in 2012, however, Ecolibrium earnestly believes through robust selection of microbes and/or metabolites, as well as formulation technology, that biopesticides have the ability to achieve equivalency in terms of efficacy, use and cost as synthetic agchem. Whereas, the multinationals are focused on an integrated or co-formulation approach of synthetic agchem with biopesticides as a way of allowing the agchem products to endure in the market place. Ecolibriums question is, “Is this truly what the public are asking for as they strive for safer food and environmental responsibility?” Our answer and foundation ethos, is that the public are asking for total withdrawal of synthetic agchem.
The strictening of environmental protection and the public's pursuit of green food have set many levels for the development of traditional chemical pesticides. How do you think biopesticide companies like Ecolibrium Biologicals seize this trend and development opportunities?
There is a fundamental reality here that we should not lose sight of, in that synthetic agchem is mainstream due to its reliability and has largely driven the green revolution, (food production), and the living standards we all enjoy in first world countries. Biopesticides, with very few exceptions have failed to achieve this reliability for many reasons largely hypothesized by literature associated with the “chemical paradigm”. On top of this we are expecting food producers to feed a population which is expected to be 9.8 billion by 2050 with reduced land area due to urbanization, all the while withdrawing valuable synthetic agchem tools from the growers toolbox of cultural practices.
So we have two disagreeing factions, the public who is demanding safer food and the withdrawal of synthetic agchem and the grower/farmers who are stating they cannot feed a hungry planet without synthetic agchem. Ecolibrium has seized on this reality and we build bridges, technology bridges or transitional technology which allows the growers to achieve the same outcome as synthetic agchem but from a biopesticide, while delivering what the public expects in food safety from the use of biopesticides, and therefore reducing dependence on synthetic agchem.
How Ecolibrium Biologicals operates in the field of biopesticide promotion. What do you think are the difference that the promotion of biopesticides compared with chemical pesticides. What do we need to pay attention to in the promotion of biopesticide?
Biopesticides come with many advantages; they do not bioaccumulate in the environment, they inherently have lower mammalian toxicity and introduction of biological control mechanisms can often inhibit, prevent or remediate the evolution of resistance. We are all familiar with these attributes and these results in the regulators awarding no withholding periods and shorter contact re-entry periods all of which are promoted as benefits. However, the reality is that biopesticides are still not mainstream. Synthetic agchem has the advantage of being the market standard and the advertising consistently reflects the “spray today, gone tomorrow” reliability of the products, all of which growers need to ensure the viability of their businesses.
Ecolibrium clearly understands this. The challenge that the biopesticide industry faces is the often elegant and complex nature of the control mechanisms mother nature employs. Mother nature also strives for balance, abhorring an ecological vacuum often created by synthetic agchem. This biological complexity is difficult to translate often requiring education and key success factors listed as long as a growers right arm. However, mother nature is also a very effective serial killer with entomopathogens creating regular epizootics and being highly effective under the right environmental conditions. If we address the elephant in the room, synthetic agchem has partial parentage in the misery of trench warfare of World War 1 and the genocide of World War 2. Ecolibrium focuses on promotion of resistance breaking mechanisms inherent in biological systems and the co evolution of biologicals with their hosts, without the evidence of resistance. The complexity and ratios of metabolites often work as an orchestra of control instruments rather than a single compound. The metabolites which Ecolibrium commercialises often employ a complex ratio of structural analogs which have been selected by nature over a millennia. This is the legacy which biological companies will leave and that is something we are proud to be part of. Promote a legacy of proven control over a millennia without negative environmental consequences.
How do you view the development of global biopesticide industry? And what are the main opportunities and challenges do you think for the global biopesticide industry in the next 5 years?
The opportunity is in the global mega trends of population growth and climate change equating to “Increasing demand for production of healthy food from less arable land through sustainable practice”. Syngenta recently stated in a presentation that the estimated total global economic opportunity value of sustainability was 900 billion USD. This is why the CAGR of the biopesticide industry by 2025 is expected to be >18% while synthetic agchem maintains 4 - 6% growth. Ecolibrium believes that the challenge is in the creation of a biological technology platform, which delivers to the growers a similar experience to synthetic agchem. If the efficacy and reliability of biopesticides does not deliver the requirements of the chemical paradigm, (e.g. expectation of immediate control), then the biopesticide industry will continue to be benched while synthetic agchem maintains its dominance.
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