Certis Belchim Innovating Biorationals to Complement Integrated Pest Management Programs

By Renee Targos
15 February 2023

AgriBusiness Global talked with Jan Mostert, Head of the Biorationals Innovation Team for Certis Belchim about what is in the company’s pipeline for 2023 and 2024, and the investments being made to bring new products to market. Mostert shared how the company is using its Growing For the Future program to customize treatment plans for farmers and the challenges growers face using biorationals.

ABG: Will Certis Belchim be introducing any new biorationals this year?

JM: We are very close to country registrations of Problad in 2023 in France and the Netherlands and are preparing the commercial launch of the product for 2024. This biorational product was developed by CEV in Portugal, based on extract from sweet lupin seeds. Coming from a natural source, the product fits current demands from the European Union (EU) and from consumers for sustainable food production. It can be used in both organic and conventional agriculture for effective control of a broad spectrum of fungal diseases (powdery mildew, botrytis, monilia) in grapes, fruits, vegetables as well as “rice blast” in rice. It is compatible with most conventional plant protection products so is ideal for use in integrated pest management (IPM) programs, enabling reduction in chemical product usage and minimizing residues in harvested food crops, while also providing a key tool for resistance management.

ABG: What are some of the challenges in innovating biorationals to work alongside traditional crop protection chemical products?

JM: The most important challenges in innovating biorationals to work alongside traditional crop protection chemical products or conventional products are the price per hectare, the performance, and the ease of use. For greater use of biorationals in conventional lower-value cropping systems, they must become both more reliable in terms of performance and closer to the cost per hectare of conventional products. The effect of biorationals is less persistent as they tend to degrade more quickly and often need to have direct contact with the pest or disease to act. To achieve this contact, a change of application techniques or even a change of the whole cropping system, is required.

Even then, they still need to deliver a profitable yield for the growers. So far, the reliability and level of performance of biorationals cannot match the best-suited conventional products for these crops, and they cannot secure a harvestable yield for growers. On the other hand, why should it be necessary to stop using the best-suited conventional products?

Jan Mostert
Head of Biorational Innovation Team
Certis Belchim

Their eco-tox profiles fit the most modern criteria, so we should just make smart use of them, especially in these lower value, broadacre crops. In the meantime, our search for new biorationals that can truly compete with today’s conventional products continues. We are very confident that in the coming decade we shall see the first of such game-changing biorational products entering the market, even in these broadacre crops. It is a question of time to find them.

Another challenge, of course, is the regulatory pressure brought by the consequences of the Green Deal/Farm to Fork strategies, especially as there is no significant improvement in the timing of the registration process to help companies achieve the targets set by the EU.

ABG: Certis Belchim’s product line consists of 50% biorationals with 45% of them expecting to reach the market in the next five years. What kind of investment is being made to get these new products to market? Are there specific regions Certis Belchim is targeting?

JM: It is well known that the registration of new products is very expensive. The process is the same for biorationals as for conventional products, though costs may be slightly lower. We, like other manufacturers, have substantial maintenance costs to renew the registration of our existing portfolio so investment in registration overall is substantial. With 50% of our new product development projects involving biorationals, representing 25% of our R&D budget (including registration costs) and 55% of our early screening budget.

We have already made excellent progress on several projects in protected crops and are extremely active on outdoor specialty crops (fruits, vegetables, and grapevine). The arable crop segment, as mentioned above, creates different challenges. However, buding on our current position with Ferric phosphate/Sluxx (for slug control), we are working on the development of new technologies for the medium- to long-term in this segment. We are also developing solutions for tropical crops (bananas, cocoa, and tobacco), and for maize in different parts of Africa with a contact bioinsecticide based on maltodextrin, and a biorational total herbicide, based on pelargonic acid. Forestry and non-agricultural segments (amenity, home and garden, industry, and railway) are additional and important areas of focus with the latter product.

ABG: In 2021, Certis Belchim invested 35% of its innovation and development budget into biorational products. Has this percentage increased or decreased? If so, to how much, and what is the reasoning behind the change?

JM: The percentage has indeed decreased slightly, but in absolute value of investment in biorationals continues to grow. We now have major investments in the registration or re-registration of our key active ingredients that bring high expenses on the conventional side, and this accounts for the lower percentage. However, it does not indicate any change in our strategy. We invest in a balanced portfolio, making sure that we provide our customers with sustainable solutions.

ABG: Are you working on any biorationals that will do well with drone spraying or See & Spray technologies?

JM: We recognize that, to be effective, biorational products require a high level of attention to application techniques as well as efficient digital tools to help monitor and identify the correct timings for application, depending on the pest or disease cycle. The accuracies claimed with drone spraying and See & Spray technologies are certainly of interest. Therefore, we are involved in projects using some of our biorational products together with drones, robotic equipment, and digital tools, in both Europe and Africa.

ABG: With the Farm to Fork initiative, as someone who has their eye on the adoption of biologicals, do you think EU is on track for meeting its goal of 25% of its farmland being organic by 2030?

JM: Organic production is progressing quite rapidly but, in our view, it may not achieve the goal of 25% by 2030. However, Certis Belchim believes that we need to find and develop effective solutions for all farmers, not just organic farmers. Solutions may involve conventional or biorational products but, most importantly, our strategic aim is to enable sustainable agriculture through our integrated portfolio of products and solutions, leveraging all the different technologies available. Of course, our biorational products will support many organic farmers across Europe, but also contribute to the wider goal of sustainable farming. Indeed, our project, Growing For The Future is already helping growers to provide low-residue and residue-free, as well as organic produce, in line with European retail and consumer demands in protected vegetable crops, citrus, stone and pome fruits, and table grapes.

ABG: How much is climate change considered in the creation of Certis Belchim biorationals?

JM: The effects of climate change can certainly have a significant impact on crop protection requirements. Outbreaks of pest pressure might be less predictable than they used to be. For example, in a hot and dry year, insect pressure can be high while a wetter year can be favorable to diseases. We also see a change in the spectrum of pests attacking specific crops. We consider it vital to have a balanced product portfolio to deal with the challenges presented by climate change and are directing our efforts to providing a balanced range of products with appropriate tools and technologies to optimize their use.

ABG: What will Certis Belchim continue to work toward in the upcoming years?

JM: Biorationals are registered plant protection products generally derived from the natural environment. They are increasingly important to successful integrated crop production and IPM. At Certis Belchim, we believe in IPM, and our ongoing ambition is to provide integrated programs, combining biorational and chemical products, that meet the challenges of sustainable crop production and the demands of the value chain.

With the progress of artificial intelligence, sensors of different kinds, predictive models, and smart and high-precision application systems, we see the opportunity to be even more efficient in this approach.

The other side of the story is to have all the tools necessary to either reduce the risk of negative outbreaks of the pest or to be able to control the pest populations or a disease infection to a level where they are not harmful to the crop. This is what drives us to have a broad innovation scope, to consider all the tools valuable for growers and to integrate their use appropriately in sustainable programs.

Collaboration with growers is essential in bringing all our R&D efforts to fruition and enabling profitable and sustainable crop production.

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