Chemical fertilizers are linked with groundwater pollution and eutrophication, while fertilizer production is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Synthetic chemical pesticides have their own share of problems – concerns over their potential to damage ecosystems and harm human health have led to regulations around pesticides becoming harsher, with increasing numbers being banned every year. This, coupled with the growing problem of pesticide resistance in many species of weeds, insects, and fungi, is leaving farmers with fewer and fewer tools to protect their crops.
Agricultural biologicals could be part of the solution to these challenges. Biostimulants, biopesticides and biofertilizers could help farmers protect and boost their yields and protect their crops in new ways, without the environmental impact of their synthetic chemical counterparts.
Biostimulants are biologically-derived substances that can be applied to plants or soils to improve nutrient uptake and tolerance of stresses, i.e. things that improve the plant itself, rather than traditional fertilizers and pesticides. For example, California start-up Pivot Bio is developing PROVEN, a seed treatment that uses genetically engineered nitrogen-fixing bacteria to form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of corn plants in order to boost nutrient uptake. Biostimulants can improve the resilience of crops and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, boosting yields and improving sustainability.
Biopesticides are a form of pesticide based on microbes or natural products. They are usually inherently less toxic than conventional pesticides and generally only affect the target pest and closely related organisms, in contrast to broad-spectrum, conventional pesticides that may affect organisms as different as birds, insects and mammals. Biopesticides often work via multiple modes of action or avoid killing the pests, making the development of resistance far less likely.
However, there are challenges. The industry is still young and biological products are not yet well-understood, leading to issues with efficacy and consistency. Biostimulant and biopesticide developers must also wrestle with regulatory systems designed for synthetic chemicals and poorly suited to biological products. Nevertheless, the outlook is optimistic, with IDTechEx forecasting that the agricultural biologicals market will reach $19.5 billion by 2031. “Biostimulants and Biopesticides 2021-2031: Technologies, Markets and Forecasts”, a new report from IDTechEx provides a critical analysis of the biostimulants and biopesticides industries, exploring the technical, regulatory and market factors that could make or break the industry.
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