Opinion: Why alternative pesticides are set to become mainstream

The rise of the ‘ethical consumer’ has created conflicts around the use of traditional pesticides in agriculture.

Image source: Tim Scrivener

People are becoming increasingly concerned about the chemicals that they’re ingesting, as well as their impact on the environment.

In response to these evolving consumer demands, regulators have become more active in assessing the impacts of pesticides and, when they deem necessary, restricting or banning their use.

This was demonstrated by the recent EU ban of chlorothalonil, the UK’s most used pesticide.

As people become more conscious of their consumption habits, the farming industry and its use of conventional pesticides will remain firmly under the spotlight.

Brexit is unlikely to be a saving grace in terms of stopping further bans on pesticides.

The post-Brexit regulatory landscape is likely to be similar to that of the EU, and the UK is perhaps home to the most ethically conscious consumers and farmers in Europe.

As a result, our farming industry as a whole will face more concentrated scrutiny.

Clampdown on pesticides

The British farming community has expressed serious concerns about the clampdown on conventional pesticides, viewing the bans as a threat to productivity.

Pesticides are often a critical input and without them, commercial yields can be significantly affected.

This is why alternatives to conventional chemistry are essential, along with more integrated approaches to pest and disease control.

As things stand, however, the banning or restricting of existing, traditional pesticides is happening at a much swifter rate than the approval of alternative chemicals and new biopesticides, which are pest control formulations derived from natural materials, such as minerals, bacteria, plants, or animals.

Declining choice

Farmers are therefore facing a declining choice of crop protection products, with few alternatives approved and ready.

This imbalance is making growing conditions more challenging. To counter this, there is a need for regulators, such as the UK’s Chemicals Regulation Division, to facilitate quicker approvals for new alternatives.

Resourcing is one issue that needs to be addressed here with some urgency.

Many regulators across the world are currently under-resourced, and simply do not have the people or means to get through assessment and approval processes efficiently.

This is a significant challenge and one that needs to be addressed by governments if farmers are to be presented with new, sustainable solutions in a timely manner.

New solutions to crop protection

Farmers should, however, remain optimistic. Innovation is taking place. While approval delays are an issue, the increased regulation around conventional chemistries is helping to drive new solutions in the crop protection space.

Allowing new sustainable biopesticides to enter the market will help make headway towards greener farming practices, meeting the ethical expectations of UK consumers

The current state of play has fuelled much-needed investment and increased interest in developing alternatives that meet regulatory standards, without compromising efficacy.

Biological solutions are the fastest growing segment of the crop protection industry.

Our approach at Eden Research, for example, is about marrying up plant-derived sustainable solutions with the best of conventional chemistry, i.e. the traditional ways of formulating pesticides.

Our view is that this will enable alternatives to not only address regulatory demands, but also help make farming more sustainable for all involved.

Despite the regulatory lag, sustainable alternatives are becoming available and being applied to all facets of farming.

Allowing new sustainable biopesticides to enter the market will help make headway towards greener farming practices, meeting the ethical expectations of UK consumers.

The global shift towards sustainable solutions is an important opportunity for the agricultural industry to embrace the benefits of sustainable biochemistry and begin influencing other key stakeholders to follow suit.

Sean Smith is CEO of biopesticide developer and supplier Eden Research

First published in Farmers Weekly