Weed management remains an important intervention throughout global food production systems.
The technical success of conventional chemical herbicides, and its competitive pricing, limited biological herbicide modes of actions (MoA) in common use and in turn led to weeds developing resistance mechanisms, rendering many chemical herbicides ineffective. With only one new MoA product registered since the mid-1980’s, other chemical herbicides in the pipeline will take years before reaching the market. Even with new options being used in the same way, the same resistance problems will be repeated.
Chemical companies are diversifying their portfolios to offer biorationals as a way to fight resistance issues and reduce maximum residue levels on crops, creating a strong potential for biorationals with typical market forecasts tracking a compound growth of at least 12%.
A recent survey, with a 15% response rate from members, of the International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association (IBMA) indicated that 129 new biocontrol products are planned for submission into the European Union by 2028.
These could offer protection for an estimated 28 million hectares of crops. Biorationals currently have a small share of the crop protection market. In comparison to bioinsecticides and biofungicides that are around 10% to 20%, bioherbicides have even less of the market share.
While bioherbicides might be the least represented in the market, an AgBioScout Technology Insight Report revealed more than 250 bioherbicide substances have been investigated, more than 45 patents filed, and more than 45 products registered. The report also reviewed technologies for the greatest potential for success and identified future market gaps for research and development.
There is also good news on the simplification of registration for biorationals. In Europe, where regulations have been prohibitively complex, the European Commission recently committed to several positive initiatives.
For example, requesting data on a need-to-know rather than a nice-to-know basis, providing provisional registration once assessed and amending regulations on micro-organisms. The whole suite of measures suggested would result in products getting to market much faster.
In other regions, there exist clear routes to market for biorationals.
Brazil has a fast-track mechanism for biorationals. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is undertaking to assist countries with understanding biological registration. The United States and Canada have a long-established route for biorational substances to be registered.
Since the advent of the bioherbicide market in the early 1980s, there have been some significant developments and improvements in this category’s manufacturing, formulation, storage, and application. Though less focus has been placed on the bioherbicide sector than bioinsecticide and biofungicides, advancements by technology type can be drawn across to a bioherbicide product.
The original bioherbicide product, DeVine, was a fungal active in a liquid formulation. It was produced to manage a specific weed pest in orange orchards and could take up to two years to have full effect, though weed reduction lasted for several years post application. As a liquid-fermented fungal organism in a simple formulation, it had a very limited shelf life.
Most original bioherbicides were fungal organisms, making use of their often highly specific relationship with their weed host to reduce a particular weed or invasive species. With the development of biorationals, companies can now decide on specificity, whether their product would require high specificity on a problem weed or be broad spectrum.
Recent advancements have created a much better situation for bioherbicides to enter the market:
There are active substances based on certain microbial, microbial metabolite, botanical, and natural substances.
Development of microbial manufacturing processes for examples, mean microbials with or without their associated metabolites can be produced cost effectively now.
Botanical extraction has similarly advanced, with the ability to identify, fractionate, and separate compounds of interest, lowering costs.
Natural substance manufacture is also well developed, with pelargonic acid being a commonly used broad spectrum bioherbicide, for example.
Storage stability of bioherbicides, has vastly improved. It is possible to produce certain microbials in their naturally resistant structures (i.e., endospores, microsclerotia, etc.) and then to formulate these into an end product such as a wettable granule, which takes advantage of being able to fit into an existing typical agricultural spray program.
Though lack of environmental persistence is a distinct advantage for biologicals, time release formulations have been developed for microbials and botanicals which would result in greater efficacy over time and fewer applications required overall for weed management.
Precision Ag and Biorationals
Advancement in the fields of precision agriculture, genomics, digital technologies, and artificial intelligence have as great or even more important impact on the biorational sector.
For example, ultra-low volume spraying technology that can deliver exactly the right amount of product to the right place at the right time, which is particularly critical for live microbial bioherbicide products.
The market opportunity for bioherbicides is growing due to sustainable agriculture needing support with biorational options. New technologies with potential have been identified and are awaiting investment.
Roma Gwynn CEO AgBioScout at AGRIBUSINESS