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Company Profile…LAM International paradigm shift: developing the next generation of biopesticides

| August 19, 2014

LAM_Intl_Rev_120pxX120pxLAM International, the USA parent corporation of Laverlam International and Mycotech in Butte, Montana, specializes in the research, field development and commercialization of biopesticides for the global agricultural pest market. The company sells its products through as network of distributors, which include several multinationals, in more than thirty countries, spread across five continents. Actively expanding to more countries by introducing novel cost effective solutions, the company holds regulatory dossiers for biological insecticides, fungicides and nematicides.

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BotaniGard ES application against thrips in organic avocados in the Uruapan region in Mexico. Application technology is very important in order to get good coverage

Luis A. Mazariegos, President and CEO of LAM International, considers that, “in general, biopesticides have long been in need, but more from a romantic perspective, of applying a product with less environmental impact, than from truly believing they can solve pest problems. As a scientist working in research and development of biopesticides since 1990, I have witnessed the great expectations and lived through the ups and downs of this industry that has finally been forced to come of age, as the need for such tools in all types of ornamental, protected and row crops are a requirement. Why has it taken so long to develop these products for them to be an important part of a grower’s pest control arsenal? I am certain that it is because most biopesticides are associated with several paradigms, primarily: requiring special environmental conditions of temperature and humidity for activity; being highly specific with a narrow spectrum of control; a requirement to be stored under refrigerated conditions and a short shelf life; poor compatibility, especially with fungicides; slow acting with low efficacies; and treated as generics. LAM International is determined to disassociate its biopesticides from such paradigms and provide stand-alone solutions to control pest problems.”

Coffee Berry Borer control with BotaniGard. Beauveria bassiana GHA strain is able to grow within the coffee berry killing the progeny which is of outmost importance in order to impact future generations.

Coffee Berry Borer control with BotaniGard. Beauveria bassiana GHA strain is able to grow within the coffee berry killing the progeny which is of outmost importance in order to impact future generations.

Unfortunately, most of the research work with biopesticides (referring mainly to fungal based products) has been done in a lab or greenhouse environment. Such research, under controlled conditions is mainly directed at evaluating efficacy, from a microbiological perspective, by obtaining mycelium and/or spore growth on a target insect. Set in most scientists and thereby user minds, this misconception of control limits biopesticides to environments with a high humidity. The equivalence to control is sporulation, whereas no sporulation means no control.

Pathogenic effect of BotaniGard (Beauveria bassiana GHA strain) on 1st, 2nd and 3rd instar whitefly nymphs. The second, third and fourth column show the effect of fungal infection and dead nymphs compared to the first column showing non infected nymphs. Though nymphs are dead, no mycelial growth or sporulation is observed due to low humidity.

Pathogenic effect of BotaniGard (Beauveria bassiana GHA strain) on 1st, 2nd and 3rd instar whitefly nymphs. The second, third and fourth column show the effect of fungal infection and dead nymphs compared to the first column showing non infected nymphs. Though nymphs are dead, no mycelial growth or sporulation is observed due to low humidity.

This in itself represents a significant part of the problem for farmers to adopt biopesticides as a useful pest control tool. “As a strategy to undo this misconception, I refrain from showing images of sporulat- ing insects and rather show changes in coloration and infection effects”, says Dr. Mazariegos. “Our technical team, with over 20 years of practical field experience, trains agronomists and growers on how biopesticides should be evaluated: observing the presence or absence of the target pest, identifying affected or dead insects, and showing sporulation as incidental.” Such a case can be exemplified by field applications using BotaniGard (Beauveria bassiana GHA strain) to control whitefly nymphs on cotton. An 85% control of 1st, 2nd and 3rd instar nymphs, can be seen by the change in colouration and dead individuals yet only 10 to 30% of these individuals sporulated in the field due to low humidity conditions.

Red coloration of Whitefly nymphs after infection by Beauveria bassiana GHA strain.

Red coloration of Whitefly nymphs after infection by Beauveria bassiana GHA strain.

Another factor that limits the use of a biopesticides is that most have a limited spectrum of control. One of the key elements for the success of BotaniGard and Mycotrol brand products is the use of the active GHA strain of Beauveria bassiana, selected from over 2000 strains in the ARSEF collection. Originally isolated from a Chrysomelidae, Diabrotica undecimpunctata, this strain is highly pathogenic to a wide spectrum of insects including, whiteflies, aphids, thrips, mealybugs, psyllids, soft scales, weevils, beetles, chinch bugs and shown to also be pathogenic to malaria and dengue transmitting mosquitoes, and recently bed bugs. This has allowed BotaniGard and Mycotrol brand products to have a worldwide market potential and driven the registration in many countries.

Though biopesticides are quite different from traditional chemistries in almost every aspect, LAM International has strived to minimize such differences, especially when it comes to efficacy, storage conditions, window-of-application, compatibility or in tank mixing with chemistries. “It is a known fact that farmers do not want to change the way they store and apply products” says Dr Mazariegos. “Growers want to be able to store products in a cool dry place or at room temperature. Thus, requiring a product to be refrigerated until its application, is problematic in many world regions. Also, a biopesticide must be ready-for-use and able to be applied during the same hours as a chemical product, limited only by rain and wind. Additionally, in many underdeveloped countries, farmers have long been under the “chemical culture” of in tank mixing multiple products to save on application costs. If a product cannot perform under such circumstances, there will be tough barriers to overcome.”

To outdo the above limitations and perform under such conditions, LAM International has developed formulations that protect the active ingredient against harmful substances, act as spreader stickers and are compatible in tank mix with other products. The ES formulations of BotaniGard and Mycotrol (Beauveria bassiana GHA strain) can be in tank mixed with most insecticides, herbicides and even fungicides. This has allowed these biopesticides to be accepted in traditional row crop agriculture in Latin American countries where most farmers look for products that can be tank mixed with other products.

Citrus aphids affected by the action of BotaniGard ES

Citrus aphids affected by the action of BotaniGard ES

Even though a biopesticide may have the ideal formulation, it will certainly fail if it is not applied correctly. Poor spray coverage is the single major factor contributing to poor performance of biopesticides. To provide thorough coverage of the target area one must take into account canopy size in order to have an adequate volume of spray. Dr Mazariegos states that, “most dose rates of biopesticides are given using a fixed volume of water per acre or hectare. Ideally, labelled rates should be in ounces or milliliters of product per gallon or per liter of water; adjusting the quantity of product to be used according to the volume of water required. This allows for the correct number of spores per ml of final application solution to be obtained and also allows for less amount of product to be used without compromising efficacy. This in turn saves costs and allows biopesticides to be competitive in lower value crop markets, such as soybeans. To effectively control whiteflies, leaf eating beetles and chinch bugs, only 125 ml (4 ounces) of Mycotrol ES are applied in 160 liters (40 gallons) per hectare in an 8000 hectare (approximately 17,000 acres) farm in Colombia, opening a big opportunity in the row crop market.”

Two-spotted Spider Mite (<em>Tetranychus urticae</em>) eggs and adults affected by,<em>Beauveria bassiana</em> GHA strain

Two-spotted Spider Mite (Tetranychus urticae) eggs and adults affected by, Beauveria bassiana GHA strain

Since biopesticides act by direct contact, in order to impact a pest, one must have thorough coverage and spores must be spread as if one were laying mines on a field without leaving empty (untreated) spaces. This is critical because multiple spores, in some cases hundreds, must come in contact with the target insect in order to  cause infection. Therefore, to achieve a good coverage and high efficacy, the droplet size and the number of spores per droplet of applied solution must be considered. It has been published elsewhere that, for a biopesticide to have an acceptable efficacy, the spore concentration in the final application solution should be at least 1 x 107  viable spores per ml. Thus, if the application is done, as an example, using 400 liters (100 gallons) and 1 liter of product, this would translate into having a biopesticide with a minimum concentration of 4 x 1012 total viable spores per liter or 4 x 109 spores per ml of formulated product.

It is recommended that biopesticides be applied with nozzles and pressures generating droplets between 50 and 200 microns. To calculate the number of spores per droplet of applied product, we must consider that a droplet with twice the diameter of another has four times the area and eight times the volume. Eight smaller droplets having the same total volume as the larger droplet will provide twice the coverage of the larger droplet. Conversely, for the same volume of liquid, when you halve the diameter of a droplet you increase the number of droplets eight-fold. For example, from a single 200 micron droplet eight 100 microns are obtained, from which 64 droplets of 50 microns are generated. If there are approximately 30,300 droplets of 200 micron diameter per ml of spray solution, then one would obtain approxi- mately 242,400 and 1,939,200 droplets of 100 micron and 50 micron diameter, respectively. Recalling the recommended concentration of 1 x 107 viable spores per ml of final application solution for a biopesticide to provide an important level of control, this would mean that for each 200, 100 and 50 micron droplet, one would have 330, 41 and 5 viable spores per droplet, respectively. Since BotaniGard ES has a 2 x 1013 viable spores per liter this would equate to hav- ing three times more spores, 990, 123 and 15 per 200, 100 and 50 micron droplet, respectively. “It is quite obvious from these numbers that applying products with lower (10x, 100x or 1000x) spore con- centration per ml will significantly affect the control and performance” says Dr. Mazariegos, adding that, “the lack of high concentration is the Achilles tendon of most biopesticides and the main reason why control levels are low and the target spectrum is limited, consequently having a negative impact on the adoption of these tools as a viable alternative.”

Mealybugs have a special protective cover that makes them difficult to control, thus formulations, as the one of BotaniGard ES, play an important role in “melting away” this protection and allowing the spores to infect and kill the pest.

Mealybugs have a special protective cover that makes them difficult to control, thus formulations, as the one of BotaniGard ES, play an important role in “melting away” this protection and allowing the spores to infect and kill the pest.

LAM International production facility in Butte, Montana, has a 21 ton (42,000 lbs) solid state fermentor capacity which allows for the production of sufficient active ingredient to formulate its products without compromising their efficacy.

When a biopesticide fails to provide the level of control expected by a grower (keeping a target pest below its damage threshold level) it will soon lose its cred- ibility and, sooner than later, be replaced by a chemical alternative rather than by another biopesticide, as most growers are reluctant to give second chances to these type of products. This is the result of con- sidering biopesticide active ingredients as generics in many parts of the world, without strain differentiation. Unfortunately, this has been a recurrent issue in many publications were BotaniGard brand products are treated as “similar” to others by sharing the “same” active ingredient (e.g. Beauveria bassiana) though the product differences are very significant and abysmal.

Finally, for a biopesticide to be widely accepted it must be a stand-alone. That is, it must be able to replace its chemical equivalent and provide the same level of control. In this respect, LAM International is leading the way with a line of products with stand-alone performance to bring peace of mind to distributors and grow- ers, and the added values that are price- less: restoring nature’s balance; little or no effect on beneficial insects, birds and mammals; preventing the contamination of water sources; and most importantly, no toxic effect on humans.

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For more information, please contact: Luis A. Mazariegos, Ph.D., President & CEO, LAM International www.laverlamintl.com lamh@lamintl.com

Published in International Pest Control – July/August 2014 issue

Category: Company news, Company Profile, Special features