New research highlights need for careful planning to maximise effectiveness of bio-chemical crop protection

Latest research by Swansea University spin out business, Bionema, a high-tech bio-chemicals business, has found that crop growers across the UK and beyond could be failing to maximise the potential of natural crop protection.

Speaking at the Biopesticides Europe conference in Barcelona last month, Bionema founder and managing director Dr Minshad Ansari told delegates that the company had found disturbing results following tests on commercial nematodes, an animal phylum used as an environmentally friendly method of pest control.

"We know from more than 30 years of experience that biological control can work just as effectively as potentially damaging traditional chemical pesticides," said Dr Ansari. " But we wanted to know what procedures were needed to ensure high kill rates."

The company set up a research programme at its headquarters at Swansea University to find out how effective the natural, beneficial nematodes (roundworms) were as they preyed on insects that attack horticultural and other important crops.

Their testing of different commercially available products showed that some were far more effective than others - and that in a few cases more than a third of the beneficial nematodes in a 50 million pack were dead.

"This can be due to a variety of factors, poor quality stock initially, poor storage and transit, and an extended time frame between manufacture and application for all kinds of reasons," said Dr Ansari.

"Through our training programmes we have been helping growers both here in the UK and worldwide to understand better that these are natural organisms which need to be treated with care.

"And one of the first things that all growers should do is to check that they receive the number of live nematodes that they have paid for, and then ensure careful management right through the process," he said.    

The award winning company, which is building a reputation for science based natural pest control, is the first independent business to win accreditation under the Official Recognition of Efficacy Testing facilities or Organisations (ORETO) scheme for efficacy testing in Biologicals and Semiochemicals.

It is a requirement of Regulation EC No 1107/2009 that the tests and analyses required to demonstrate the efficacy of plant protection products must be conducted by ‘Official’ or ‘Officially Recognised’ testing facilities or organisations.

"We are developing an exciting range of new products which will be available to meet the expected market demand brought about by legislative changes which are coming through shortly in the horticultural sector," Dr Ansari said.

"And that is why it is so important that we as an industry get this right, we need to ensure that biopesticides work effectively as the natural alternative to toxic chemical pesticides."

“EU legislation and consumer led demand means growers have to reduce the use of chemical pesticides in crop production to grow fruits and vegetables with reduced detectable residues," said Dr Ansari. "We must make sure that we deliver."

Bionema was founded in 2012 by Dr Ansari, with support from the Research, Engagement & Innovation Services team at SwanseaUniversity.  It is currently developing a biopesticide to combat the western flower thirps, an insect native to the South-West US that has spread across Europe, causing up to £5 billion of damage to strawberry growers worldwide.

Other services include efficacy testing of current and new biopesticides, diagnostic services, research and development of novel pesticides, support of EU regulatory dossier submission and training in the use of biopesticides.