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Grow Your Crop Protection Toolbox: Enhance Sustainability

April 1, 2022

The concept of sustainability has attained a high profile in agriculture, but the term means different things to different people and some aspects are assigned greater importance than others based on personal beliefs. Most would agree, however, that resource stewardship, worker protection, and effective but low-environmental-impact pest control are key parts of sustainability initiatives.

But, for the farmer, achieving sustainability goals isn’t easy. The toolboxes that growers have long relied upon to protect their crops from various pests are growing smaller. For a variety of reasons, including adverse effects on the environment, worker safety hazards, reduced consumer tolerance of pesticide residues, or pesticide resistance, growers are losing tools and being forced to diversify the inputs they use to manage even the most common plant health issues.

Farmers also know how they grow matters as much as what they harvest. Consumers of all agricultural commodities are more engaged, vocal and insistent than ever that responsible and sustainable production practices are behind the foods they eat. They seek not just healthy food, but food produced responsibly and in balance with nature.

Integrating biopesticides into successful IPM programs can be the key to meeting the needs of these aware and involved consumers and the farmers who produce the foods they eat. Biological crop protection products, which are derived from naturally-occurring substances and microorganisms, provide a means to produce a healthy crop without adversely impacting the environment within which it grows. 

Let’s dig a little deeper into some specific advantages that biopesticides may offer to crop production.

Biopesticides Can Be Highly Specific 

Biopesticides often target a specific pest or limited pest group, making them non-harmful to other species. For example, Certis Biologicals’ Gemstar® LC Insecticidal Virus specifically targets only Helicoverpa or Heliothis spp like corn earworm or tobacco budworm. Other products, like those based on the beneficial bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt for short, control a wider array of caterpillar pests. But in both cases, only the larval or immature stages are targeted, and the products must be ingested through feeding on treated foliage to be effective.  Neither the virus nor the bacterium has any activity until they interact with the target insect’s own unique digestive processes, resulting in lethal infection in the case of Gemstar LC and destruction of the midgut by Bt.

This high degree of specificity in targeting not only specific pests, but specific stages of pests, and specific organ systems, make these types of biopesticides valuable for sustainable pest management. 

Biopesticides are Beneficial Friendly 

Biopesticides target and kill pests causing crop damage while minimizing adverse impact on the natural enemies (predators, parasites, fungi or bacteria) that feed on and help control the same or other damaging pests.  Likewise, most biopesticides present relatively low risk to honeybees and other pollinators.

Biopesticides are Worker Friendly

Biopesticides inherently have low toxicity to humans. Most carry a “Caution” signal word and  field re-entry intervals of 4 hours on the label and can be applied up to and including the day of harvest. Growers can use biopesticides to manage pests and diseases without endangering the health and safety of their farm workers, with less downtime out of their fields and orchards during busy periods such as harvest.

Biopesticides are Consumer Friendly

Unlike most conventional chemical pesticides, many biopesticides are exempt from residue tolerance requirements, meaning they have no minimum preharvest interval (PHI) or maximum residue levels (MRL).  Such products provide a means to protect crops from pests and diseases without adding to consumer concerns about pesticide residues in food.  They also can be used to protect crops without contributing to MRLs that can affect acceptability for export markets.  

Biopesticides are Environmentally Friendly

Biopesticides are generally short-lived after application with little or no environmental toxicity. These characteristics allow their use while minimizing impacts on desirable plants, soils, air and water, enhancing the sustainability profile of farming operations where they are used.

Biopesticides Can Fight Resistance, Naturally

Growers who have relied upon conventional chemical pesticides for decades are now facing an even greater concern—resistance. With their multiple and unique modes of action, biopesticides offer growers a naturally-derived tool for managing pests and diseases that have developed resistance to synthetic chemical pesticides.  

At Certis Biologicals, through our legacy of leadership in the development, manufacturing and marketing of biopesticides, we have seen the power that nature can have in achieving effective crop protection that also provides for a sustainable future for the environments and the communities in which we live and grow. From nature, with nature, for nature.

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