Monthly Archives: January 2014

Testing, Testing, Testing!

There was an interesting post in AG Professional entitled “The rise of Biologicals”. As one might expect, there is interest in using environmentally safe and friendly pesticides instead of conventional chemicals. My father spent 30 years in the conventional pesticide business and always felt that  after Since Silent Spring pesticides were always going to be given a bad rap.

When you live in a country where the majority of people are only concerned with the quality of their food and can’t imagine worrying about the presence of it, it is easy to understand. With demands on the world’s food supply to double over the next 35 years, existence of food will begin to take on a new urgency.

So, what have we to offer with biological pesticides? In some cases, conventional pesticides simply do not do the job. I attended the tobacco workers conference in Pinehurst, North Carolina last week and many crops have disease problems without solutions. I spoke with a representative from Valent Crop Sciences about their new Presidio(tm) fungicide for tobacco. Tobacco has a number of disease problems Black Shank, Leaf spot and others which are still not completely under control. The new Valent product looks promising but, disease resistance, workers safety and the environmental consequences will always remain.

Nobody eats tobacco but, it is still an important cash crop in the eastern US and high-tech companies are utilizing it for production of pharmaceuticals so, we have heard the last from this ancient crop.

There was a presentation from an organic farmer that has been producing up to 160 acres of tobacco for almost 15 years and, the economics of organic production make sense. He can make more money (almost twice in some cases) with organic production. He has to jump through some hoops to qualify but, he is being greatly rewarded for his skill in this regard.

We are now trying to find a place to start with our Leone bio-fungicide at this moment. Where should we start? Many crops have disease problems which result in crop loses of up to 20% worldwide because of fungus infestations. Yes, things like bananas, apples, corn, wheat, rice and peanuts.

Since we are trying to find the most economical path to commercialization, the crop of choice may not be a popular fruit or vegetable. It may not even be a fruit or vegetable consumed for food! The reason is the EPA makes it easier to apply for registration for crops that really don’t provide food but, do use lots of conventional pesticides.

poinsettia

For example, poinsettias are wonderful plants we all have around the house at holiday time. Why would we consider starting out with poinsettias? Well, they grow in a warm, moist greenhouse spending much of the time in the dark. This is the perfect breeding ground for molds and fungus. Workers in these greenhouses are exposed to a number of conventional pesticide treatments to deal with these problems.

The EPA likes products that improve safety, pose no threat to the environment and solve a problem that provides an economic benefit. It is not our first choice but, may end up being our best choice because of the reduction in environmental and toxicology testing we may have to submit.

Testing costs affect the bottom line (for good and for bad)

Why are we bananas about bananas?

One of the focus areas of our research involves a fungal pathogen of bananas….. a fruit we all love to eat. It seems bananas (Musca acuminata) are having a rather difficult time of it right now. The worst part is that it is deja vu all over again!

Bananas are under attack from Black Sigatoka Mycosphaerella fijiensis (Morelet) (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Sigatoka ) which is decimating banana crops around the world.

Bananas are a bigger deal than you may think. They are the forth largest cash crop in the world after wheat, rice and corn. The average american consumes about 25 pounds of bananas each year and that amount is greater than apples and oranges combined. In Rwanda, per capita consumption is over 500 lbs. per year!

Here are a couple of references detailing the problem:

Black sigatoka: An increasing threat to banana cultivation  http://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/intropp/lessons/fungi/ascomycetes/Documents/0110-01F.pdf

Black sigatoka of Banana: A most important disease of a most important fruit

http://www.apsnet.org/publications/apsnetfeatures/Pages/BlackSigatoka.aspx

So, there is clearly a problem. In our greenhouse study, we were able to demonstrate equal control of Mycocosphaerella fijiensis compared to the conventional pesticide propiconazole. That’s a long way from a commercial product but, at least we are in the race to find a environmentally safe biological treatment before bananas disappear from your grocery shelves (its happened before!).