Biopesticides Primed for Growth

Originally published at Farm Chemicals International, by Jackie Pucci

Biopesticides Primed for Growth

“Big things have small beginnings,” is the famous quote from classic flick Lawrence of Arabia. For biopesticides, the maxim holds true: They are confined to the fruit and vegetable fields no longer.

As more major multinationals have jumped into the biopesticides arena, more suppliers, and larger suppliers, mean wider distribution and deeper market penetration of naturally derived products in years to come – especially in coveted row crop areas like the U.S. Midwest and the Brazilian Cerrado.


Ziv Tirosh, CEO of Stockton Group; Photo courtesy Stockton Group

“That [fruits and vegetables] was a great starting point,” Ziv Tirosh, CEO of Israel-based Stockton Group, maker of Timorex Gold biofungicide, said in an interview with Farm Chemicals International. “But the heart and soul of our food chain is row crops, and it’s a different ball game in terms of economics and application rates. Nevertheless, Stockton and other biopesticide companies are working hard at creating biopesticides that will work economically on row crops.”

The biologicals buying spree by agchem companies large and small swept the industry almost as fast as the spread of weed resistance. From Bayer’s trendsetting purchase of AgraQuest for nearly $500 million to BASF’s $1.02 billion acquisition of Becker Underwood to Monsanto’s $300 million investment in Novozymes in their so-called BioAg Alliance (to name a few), the value and potential of these products are not only being recognized but sought after. Twenty years ago, who could have imagined the current scenario?

For biopesticide companies, multinationals’ growing appetite for their products means immediate global market access and far greater resources to support product R&D, registration, manufacturing and marketing, among other prime opportunities. Easier regulatory also makes them attractive, with the typical timeframe being three to four years versus nine to 10 years, and not even 1/10 of the $250 million cost to register a traditional crop chemical.

“The interest of global crop protection companies to invest in biologicals will certainly enhance market acceptance and market penetration, especially in fruits and vegetables, but also in row crops, for example in the U.S. and Brazil,” said Utz Klages, Bayer CropScience spokesman.

Tirosh added, “There’s no doubt that the continued adoption of biopesticides by multinationals means that penetration into mainstream spray programs will continue at a rapid pace and clearly this will add to the exploration of value into row crops.”

None of this is to say that incorporating biopesticides is an automatic easy transition for traditional crop protection companies – far from it.


Dr. Mark Trimmer; photo courtesy DunhamTrimmer

Challenges include biopesticides’ more demanding manufacturing and logistics, and the need to learn how to evaluate, develop and market the products, according to Dr. Mark Trimmer of the consultancy DunhamTrimmer. Training field staff is key. “Traditional crop protection companies will need to adjust their sales and marketing approaches to succeed with biologicals,” Trimmer said in an interview.

“Biopesticide benefits, such as residue and resistance management, are optimized when used in programs in combination with conventional chemistry,” he said. “Those companies that integrate biologicals into their thinking and train their field sales teams to promote them effectively will have an advantage.”

Big Growth and the ‘Wal-Mart Factor’

Bill Stoneman, executive director of the Biopesticides Industry Alliance, pointed out that it would seem that few biological companies would be left to acquire, but instead, he said more have sprouted up in the wake of the buying spree. Companies are also increasingly reaching out to seed treatment players to bulk up their portfolios and boost biopesticide consumption, such as Syngenta’s Clariva biological seed treatment nematicide based on technology it acquired from Pasteuria Bioscience in 2012.

Another recent example: In March, Bayer acquired Biagro Group, an Argentinian producer and distributor of biological seed treatment solutions especially in soybeans. Bayer is set to further expand its seed treatment business, known as SeedGrowth, by offering “an attractive and high-quality on-seed portfolio based on products, coatings, equipment and services,” said Matthias Haug, head of Bayer SeedGrowth.

Biopesticides still represent only about 3.5% or $1.93 billion of the $53 billion global crop protection market, according to DunhamTrimmer. That is up from $1 billion five years ago and $500 million a decade ago. The industry is highly fragmented, with more than 200 companies operating globally and the top 20 of those accounting for two-thirds of the market. Compare that with traditional crop protection market, in which the Big 6 eat up more than 72% of total sales.

The biopesticide industry rose more than 15% last year, and the trend is expected to continue. Pamela Marrone, founder and CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations, said her company outpaced that growth with more than doubling of sales. “The growth drivers of using biologicals for residue and resistance management and where chemicals are restricted or not allowed, will continue,” she said. Further, she noted that biologicals can be used right up to harvest to manage residues, are produced using agricultural raw materials and aid in reducing water use in crop production. There is also the Wal-Mart factor: They can help large food companies and retailers meet their sustainability goals, and help meet consumers’ requirements for health and wellness.

Pam Marrone, founder and CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations

Pam Marrone, founder and CEO of Marrone Bio Innovations

The launches move along at a fast clip. Marrone is rolling out one to new products per year and expanding its existing products, including Grandevo bioinsecticide and Regalia biofungicide, which snapped up five new registrations in Latin America last year and ran a successful test launch for plant health in corn and soybeans last year. “We are expanding its acreage in 2014 and moving into canola, wheat and rice. We also found that Regalia’s mode of action for resistance management and bee safety gave it a boost in California almonds,” she said.

Following this spring’s debut of Venerate bioinsecticide, Marrone is also set to launch Haven, a product that reduces transpiration, resulting in crop yield increase. In less than a year, the company built a fermentation manufacturing plant for making Grandevo, and in June, it closed on $40 million follow-on stock offering. “These new funds allow us to accelerate moving our active ingredients into seed treatments, further international expansion and to expand the pipeline,” Marrone said.

Stockton Group’s Tirosh summed up the industry’s generally optimistic outlook: “We are still in the very initial era of penetration of biopesticides and their full adoption into spray programs … We have enough value already to make this into a solid shift.”

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Combining the powers of biological agents and synthetic chemistries

As a leader in biopesticides innovation, STK Bio-ag Technologies (formerly Stockton) is pioneering a new generation of ‘hybrid’ products that combine the powers of biological agents and synthetic chemistries, and which may present a new era in pest control. With recent partnership agreements with industry giants such as BASF, Syngenta and Seipasa, this seemed like a great time for Chemicals Knowledge to catch up with STK’s Chief Scientist, Professor Moshe Reuveni. STK seems to be in a great place right now! How have the values and mission of the company led you here? STK was founded and is headquartered in Israel, the ‘innovation nation’! Innovation and sustainable agriculture are in our DNA, and we are committed to the values of sustainable agriculture – from field to fork. This stems from our main mission to provide premium, highly effective products, with low chemical residues and novel and unique mechanisms of action (MOA). We also aim to provide additional yield benefits, and to ensure that our products are flexible and easy to apply, and chemically compatible with many other active ingredients. What are the main benefits of biopesticides? There are many advantages. Biopesticides come from nature – they may be plant extracts, like Timorex Gold, which effectively ruptures pathogen cells (Figure 1), or bacteriological, like Aviv, a powerful Bacillus subtilis requiring less than half the dosage of other biopesticides. In any case, biopesticides contain no synthetic chemicals. They are produced from renewable sources, and they leave minimal crop residue, making crops treated with biopesticides much more competitive in domestic and international markets. Regulators, consumers and retail supermarkets all want to reduce the chemical residue on their produce. The selectivity of biopesticides, which target only their natural enemies, also helps to maintain beneficial insect and mite populations, ensure worker safety and promote environmental safety. Today’s biopesticides are as effective – or even more effective – than synthetic chemical pesticides, in terms of crop protection and increasing yields. Furthermore, biopesticides are an important weapon in managing pesticide resistance. They can help reduce the selection pressure for the evolution of resistance to synthetic pesticides, and the risk of pests and pathogens developing resistance to biopesticides is low, especially as these agents often have multiple modes of action. Switzerland recently announced that it is considering a total ban of synthetic pesticides – do you think it is feasible to have a world free of synthetics? The world’s population is expected to grow from the current 7 billion people to 9 billion people by 2050. In order to feed all of these people and avoid mass starvation, mankind will need to double crop yields globally. This is a tall order, and to achieve this, growers will need effective tools for combating diseases – we think this will need to include biopesticides and synthetic chemical pesticides; or hybrid technologies that combine the two. The use of biopesticides is forecast to grow by 15% to 20% annually for the foreseeable future, while synthetic chemical use is predicted to grow at a slower annual rate of 3%. If those growth rates are maintained, eventually we will be in a situation where more biopesticides than synthetic pesticides are being used. We think this will be a good situation to be in, for the many reasons discussed above, but we still see a continued need for good synthetic pesticides. Can you tell us more about ‘hybrid’ technologies and how they expect to encourage uptake of biological agents? STK has introduced the world’s first ‘hybrid’ pesticide, Regev – the ‘pre-mix’ of a synthetic pesticide with a botanical-based biopesticide. Specifically, it combined a Tea Tree botanical extract and difenoconazole in an easy-to-use formulation. The combination of a natural product with broad-spectrum activity and a traditional site-specific synthetic provides growers with the different modes of action of a botanical-based active ingredient and an effective chemical pesticide. The hybrid combination results in a reduced synthetic chemical load on the environment, compared with other traditional mixtures based on two synthetic chemicals. Regev is an effective and unique tool for resistance management, and it is clearly suitable for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs. This product is also a bridge for growers who have never previously tried a biopesticide. These growers can use Regev in exactly the same way as their current chemical pesticide: no mixing, no rotating, easy-to-use… and with the benefits of lowering chemical residues, improved resistance management and yield growth. Regev will accelerate the uptake of biological products by making it easy. Historically, biopesticides have been used largely on high-value crops, such as fruits and vegetables, but hybrids like Regev are not only being used on fruits and vegetables, but have proven to be a cost-effective approach for row crops like soy beans, and field and broad acre crops like corn. Regev is already being used in 10 countries throughout Latin America, Israel, Serbia and the Philippines. Plans for 2019 call for the global rollout of REGEV. How are you working with global majors to encourage global distribution of these technologies? To accelerate the distribution of STK’s biological technologies for sustainable agriculture, we have entered into partnerships with various companies . In Brazil, Timorex Gold botanical-based biofungicide is co-distributed by both STK and BASF, which is proving to be very effective in this very large country. In the US, Aviv, our low-dose Bacillus subtilis biofungicide, is distributed by Syngenta. Not all of our distributors are the global majors, and STK is always open to partnerships with companies large, medium and small. What’s next for STK? Beyond the continuing geographic distribution of Timorex Gold, Regev and Aviv, STK has a powerful pipeline of new biological products to provide new tools to help growers reach the goal of doubling their yields by 2050. This pipeline includes new biopesticides based either on powerful natural plant molecules or plant extracts to be used as bio-fungicides or bio-insecticides. In addition, new hybrids combining natural active ingredients and reliable synthetic active chemicals, to be used on wide range of crops and pathogens, are under development. Interview with: Professor Moshe Reuveni, Chief Scientist at STK bio-ag technologies, Ha’Mefalsim St 17, POB 3517, Petach Tikva 4951447, Israel

Effective solution for avocado disease found

Shay Shaanan, STK Bio-Ag Technologies This is according to Shay Shaanan, the company’s Vice President of Research and Development. “In collaboration with the growers, we found a very effective solution for this disease, using Timorex Gold®.” Timorex Gold® is a broad-spectrum, botanical-based fungicide that can be used for many different crops or diseases. “Here, we are talking about Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. We are still in the process of registering this solution in Chile. It looks like avocado is becoming the next big crop for us. Avocado is the new banana”, says Shay. “We are constantly developing new applications for the product because it has many modes of action.” Shay explains why Timorex Gold® is so versatile. “It is made from the extract of the Australian tea tree. This extract contains various molecules. Each molecule has a different function. Basically, Timorex Gold® is a product that can be used in many different ways. It counters many different diseases and has different effects on different plants.” Interesting finding in banana plants He goes on to say that they have learned from the banana growers in Brazil that Timorex Gold® affects their trees’ roots when sprayed directly onto the tree’s leaves. According to Shay, this combats Fusarium disease, which affects the roots of the banana tree. “This is very interesting.” “We know that Timorex Gold® molecules penetrate the plant, but not moving systemically down to the roots . Spraying the tree’s leaves with this product dramatically influences its roots and the entire plant. We are researching exactly how this happens, but we now know that Timorex Gold® has another good attribute.” The benefit of using Timorex Gold® is also being recognised further down the food chain. One of the international supermarket chains in Brazil has introduced a high taste and quality category, requiring that produce have no chemical residue and pass labor and environmental audits. Bananas treated with Timorex Gold® have qualified for this program and have received the taste and quality label. The use of Timorex Gold® has been reauthorised in Chile until 2022 and has been expanded to include other fruits & vegetables. It has been approved in China, Brazil, and just about every US state. Expanding quickly Shay goes on to say that STK is growing very fast, with its technologies expanding geographically. “There have been so many new developments with Timorex Gold®, Aviv®, REGEV ™, and partnerships in the last six months or so”. This company is one of a handful that focuses on developing botanically-based pesticide solutions. One of these partnership deals for Timorex Gold® is with BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world. “Our strategy is based on this kind of cooperation”, says Shay. “We see the benefits of this from two angles. Firstly, these large companies have access to the big markets. They can usually offer our product better than us because of the army of salespeople that they have at their disposal.” “The other angle is that we are developing new lines of biopesticides based on mixing biological and soft chemical solutions. In order to develop these new products, we need to cooperate with large multinational companies to get access to their data packages in various countries. This is the most costly part of trying to register new solutions on the market, especially in Europe and the US.” Shay adds that Europe is a much a tougher market to penetrate than the United States. “It takes much longer, and the costs are much higher”, he says. “European farmers will not use unregistered products. We are working hard to get Timorex Gold® onto the European market. We have submitted a registration, which should be completed in 2021. This is only in two years time, but in our industry two years is like tomorrow.” AVIV ‘Low Dose’ Bacillus subtilis biofungicide Another well-known STK Bio-Ag Technologies product in the US is AVIV®. AVIV® is an advanced microbial solution, a low-dose fungicide that contains Bacillus subtilis”, says Shay. “You only use a very small fraction compared to other well-known similar products. This is a big advantage.” Shay continues, “The strain of Bacillus in AVIV® as is also much more efficient, so you need much less in order to get the same efficacy.” “It is much easier for the farmer to use”, says Shay. “The very friendly and clear formulation makes the difference. This product is selling well, especially in the USA.” AVIV has recently been approved for use in California and 26 other American states. “Things are progressing ahead of schedule”, says Shay. Hybrid Fungicide: REGEV® REGEV™ is STK Bio-Ag Technologies’ first hybrid. “It is a completely new solution on the market”, Shay says. “We call it a bridge. We believe that this is a nice link for us to reach conventional farmers. These farmers are feeling pressured into using more environmentally-friendly solutions. They are hesitant to go all out in using purely biological products. These are usually not as efficient as the chemical pesticides.” “Once you tell them REGEV™is a mixture of a biological fungicide with a chemical they know,” he continues to say, “it makes it much easier for them to use it. In many cases, this solution performs better than the chemical solutions they are familiar with. At the end of the day, they reduce the amount of chemical they use dramatically. It is also very versatile when it comes to which crops it can be used on. In each country, different crops respond well to this product.” “REGEV™ solves a big problem”, adds Shay. “The use of bio-pesticides is growing at an average of annual rate of something like 15 - 20 %. In contrast, synthetic pesticide usage is only increasing by three per cent year-on-year. Yet, most growers are still not using any biologicals. Why is this?” He says REGEV™ addresses this issue. “It is a premix, so the farmer does not have to mix anything, and they do not have to do rotations between bio-pesticides and conventional pesticides. So, the grower can use REGEV in exactly the same way he used his chemical pesticide. Only now, with REGEV™, the farmer gets to participate in this biological revolution and gets to have a more sustainable profile. He also has a new product with which manage crop disease resistance.” Hybrid Technology at LATAM BioControl Conference Shay says the company has great faith in this product. “We can see how fast the farmers and industry are accepting this product. That is why there several new hybrid solutions in the pipeline. We have many interesting, attractive developments in the works.” Jose Antonio Estevez, STK Bio-Ag Technologies’Colombia Country Manager, will be doing a presentation about its ‘hybrid technology’ at the upcoming LATAM BioControl Conference. This is the largest international event dedicated to biocontrol in Latin America. It is to be held on 14 November in Medellin, Colombia. Publication date : 9/6/2018 Author: ©