If you had to choose a word to describe the theme of the CropWorld Global conference in London last week, it would be sustainability — in other words, biological crop protection products.
Bayer CropScience said it is increasing research and development spending on the heels of its nearly half-billion dollar takeover of U.S. biopesticides firm AgraQuest in July, which delivered to the consolidating industry yet another significant boost. Speaking at CropWorld, Bayer’s Global Head for Research and Development Dr. C. David Nicholson noted that the Big 6 player is raising overall R&D spending to more than $1.079 billion a year by 2015, and will increase its Seeds R&D budget to reach a 50:50 ratio in R&D for Seeds / Biologics and Chemistry, he said.
Marcus Meadows-Smith, Head of Biologics at Bayer CropScience and former CEO of AgraQuest, also spoke at the event about new technologies and the evolving role of naturally derived crop protection products. “Today’s farmers face unique challenges, and increasingly seek solutions that span synthetic chemistry, molecular biology and biologics,” Meadows-Smith noted at a panel discussion. Demand for biological products – which Bayer notes are often effective in very small quantities – is growing, and the broader biologicals market is expected to triple to almost $4 billion by 2020.
Syngenta’s Rob Neill, Global Head of Asset and Platform Management, highlighted key drivers of the brisk activity in biologicals, among them: reduced chemical residues, less risky registration, resistance management, public perception and performance.
“We looked at biologicals as a good alternative from the regulatory side of things,” he said. “What’s really come through for us in the past years is performance. What’s happened quietly behind the scenes is revolutionary. Before it was ‘spray and pray,’ and now science has arrived,” Neill said.
More than 245 biopesticides have been registered at the U.S. EPA, and with several hundred more competitors in the space and more major companies involved, “biological performance still lags, but it’s getting closer,” Neill added. Syngenta sees peak sales potential for biologicals at $6 billion. He pointed to the need for lower manufacturing costs and growth in row crops to make them more competitive with synthetic chemistry, which he says are achievable goals.
Pam Marrone, founder of Marrone Bio Innovations, talked matter-of-factly about the thorough transformation of biopesticides from the “pigeonholed-into-organic” niche industry she helped pioneer to the mainstream market it is today, which is expected to exceed chemical pesticides growth at 10% to 15%.
What could drive broader biopesticides adoption, she said, is formulation innovation. New inerts, formulations to extend the residual life of the products and improve their consistency are key, along with premixes of chemicals and biopesticides and premixes of multiple biopesticide active ingredients, Marrone said. More education and training, and on-farm demonstrations are also needed.