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An Analysis of the Biopesticide Market Now and Where it is Going

| February 5, 2016

Biopesticide use began in the late 1800s with fungal spores used to control insect pests. One of the first documented cases of biopesticide use was by Agostine Bassi, who in 1835 demonstrated that spores of the white-muscadine fungus (Beauveria bassiana) could protect silkworms from disease. Since then, biopesticide use has continued uninterrupted through modern agricultural history, but to date it has been a small market compared to conventional crop protection. The major attribute that differentiates biopesticides from synthetic pesticides is the mode of action. While most, if not all, synthetic insecticides are neurotoxic to pests, many biopesticides have other modes of action including mating disruption, anti-feeding, suffocation, and desiccation. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies three classes of biopesticides: microbial, biochemical, and plant-incorporated-protectants (PIPs). We classify predatory insects as a fourth category as their functions in agriculture are fundamentally similar. Microbial pesticides are whole microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and others, that act as pesticides. The core of the definition for this class of biopesticides is the use of whole, live organisms for biocontrol. Biochemical pesticides are either microbial extracts or natural products from other sources like plant extracts or yeast fermentation products that control pests by non-toxic mechanisms like those described above. These are typically small molecules and can include semiochemicals (hormone mimics) and attractants for use in traps. PIPs are pesticides that the plant produces itself from genetic material inserted into the plant. PIPs can result from transgenic events as well as through non-transgenic approaches like direct genome editing and the seed treatment-based method pioneered by Morflora. Our fourth category is the application of predatory insects for crop protection. Using insects like ladybugs that predate on pests like aphids is a familiar application of predatory insects for biocontrol.

The prototype biopesticides all come from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterial species that produces a toxin (called the Bt toxin) which disrupts the insect gut when ingested. Biopesticide products derived from the Bt bacterium and its toxin include microbial, biochemical, and PIP varieties. Currently, approximately 75% of all biopesticide use consists of Bt-based products. The live microbe form is an effective microbial pesticide, purified toxin from this strain is the world’s most widely used biochemical biopesticide, and the DNA encoding the Bt toxin makes a powerful PIP as well. This microorganism dominates the current biopesticide landscape, but emerging approaches are poised to capture additional market share going forward, thanks in large part to emerging resistance to Bt-based biopesticide products.

Crop protection targets like pests and disease have historically been a focus of crop protection development efforts; biopesticide developers are targeting abiotic stresses as a key area of focus.

Crop protection targets like pests and disease have historically been a focus of crop protection development efforts; biopesticide developers are targeting abiotic stresses as a key area of focus.

Biopesticides are gaining popularity as lower environmental impact alternatives to conventional synthetic pesticides. Attributes like low-to-no re-entry intervals following applications and less restrictive (sometimes non-existent) maximum residue limits are enticing growers to trade portions of their synthetic crop protection portfolios for biocontrol options. Especially popular are integrated pest management (IPM) strategies that employ a combination of synthetic and biological crop protection products in order to achieve synergies of action and lowered overall use. In these strategies, properly timed applications of biological products can decrease a grower’s total need for synthetic pesticides. This sets up a unique growth situation for biopesticides. Part of the market’s growth comes from gaining market share previously held by synthetic crop protection. Additional growth of biopesticides is due to new applications for biocontrol that are not possible with synthetic crop protection.

This is an extract of the full article published in: Outlooks on Pest Management – October 2015 issue.

The full text of this article is available to subscribers of Outlooks on Pest Management.
Non-subcribers may buy & download full text article.

Author: Sara Olson, Research Analyst, Agro Innovation, Lux Research Inc., 100 Franklin Street, 8th Floor, Boston, MA, 02110, USA

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Category: Agriculture

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