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South Auckland lab leading the world in green pesticides signs multi-million dollar deal with Chinaqrcode

Apr. 1, 2019

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Apr. 1, 2019
A New Zealand laboratory has their foot in the door of a multi-billion dollar market by developing pesticides that are safe, green and effective.

In front of an old factory in Pukekohe, sits a sign that reads 'Ecolibrium Biologicals'.

Inside is a small laboratory, with a staff of 25, but this humble operation has been named one of the top ten biopesticide developers in the world.

Ecolibrium Biologicals founder and technical director Stephen Ford

Biopesticides, says lab founder and technical director Stephen Ford, are pesticides that use organisms like bacteria or natural byproducts to control the spread of insects and other invasive pests.

"The tools are all there, it's just about listening to what nature is trying to sell us," said Ford.

In February the lab signed a licence agreement with Beijing company CoBio to make and sell their latest creation, Lateral, exclusively in China.

Lateral uses a bacteria developed at Lincoln University that is found naturally in Brassica seeds to kill a family of caterpillars, which cause US$4-5 billion in yearly damage around the world. 

The deal comes as the Chinese government makes moves to ban the sale of synthetic pesticides which can be damaging to the environment and public health. 

"They're bulldozing factories that don't comply," said Ford.

But Lateral, and other biopesticides like it, don't pose the same environmental and health risks as synthetic chemicals, and aren't subject to the same regulation, he said.

"Because [Lateral] is a bacteria, it's not polluting, it's already there in nature, nature knows how to break it down and get rid of it." 

He says it's also safe for humans due to a quirk in our evolution.

"Most bacteria can't survive in the human body, we're just too hot.

"[Bacteria] will stop growing at 32 degrees and they die at smack on 37 degrees, so how's that for mother nature?"

According to recent research, the market for biopesticide technology in China was estimated to grow from $220 million US dollars in 2016, to $1363 million by 2025.  

"And this is just the opening taster for them, because there are four or five other technologies [biopesticides] we have in the pipeline."

Outside of China the globally the market for biopesticides is expected to reach $6.4 billion by 2023.

Ford says biopesticide technology has been around for a while, but it was often ineffective compared to chemical pesticides.

"You can go a hug a tree all you want and get fluffy about it, but if it doesn't work no one is going to use it."

Biopesticides that used bacteria often required refrigeration to be kept alive, which made transport difficult and drove up cost.

"That was a massive hurdle."

To overcome this, the Pukekohe worked with Axis Labs in Nelson, creating a way to store the bacteria in water-dispersible granules. 

"With that, a farmer can... buy it off the shelf, throw it in the back of his ute, chuck it into the tank of his spray tractor and it's going to work like a synthetic ag-chem."

"So now you've got something that is cheap, easy to transport and just as effective."

He says it is especially good at killing the Diamondback Moth, which has become resistant to "everything thrown at it".

New Zealand growers can expect to see the product on shelves by 2020.
Source: stuff.co.nz

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