Changes in European biologicals market and approaches to increase product adoption

“An interview with AgroPages”

Certis Belchim is a leading biologicals provider in Europe. Their Head of Corporate Affairs, Kevin Price, gives us an overview of European biologicals market, and talks about their experience in expanding adoption of biologicals.

How long have you been distributing biologicals? How has the market changed in that time?

Biologicals have been part of the portfolios of Certis Belchim and its legacy companies from the start. Even before 2001 when Certis Europe was formed, we had a direct interest in biologicals with a macro-beneficial insect production and distribution business, pheromone production, as well as Bt-based insecticides from our sister company, Certis Biologicals, in the USA all part of our product range. Biologicals have therefore been part of our broad portfolio of products, alongside conventional chemistry, for well over 20 years.

In that time the market has changed substantially: 20 years ago, these types of products were seen very much as a niche sector with a limited market share, often restricted to use in organic production or protected cropping. Since then, they have become much more widely accepted as supplementary to, and in some cases substitutes for, conventional chemistry. The drivers for the use of these products are linked to resistance management and residue management of conventional chemistry, a growing consideration over recent years, so their importance has increased enormously. The technology of the products themselves has also changed: a lot of new technologies are available now and the efficacy of products has improved. In addition, people have a better understanding of the products and how they work now than they did. In our experience, grower education to create understanding of how the products work and how they fit alongside conventional chemistry is critical to their success in the market.

Important political and regulatory drivers have also created a positive influence on the acceptance of, and demand for, biological products. The number of conventional products that have exited the market because of regulatory concerns has not been matched by their rate of replacement, so the space for biological products has increased. In addition, concern around the environmental impact of conventional chemistry, as well as operator and consumer safety, have all combined to make the market and market acceptance of biologicals very different from what it was 20 years ago.

Despite the recent difficulties we have seen at regulatory level in gaining acceptance of the Sustainable Use Regulation in the European Union, the reasons for the introduction of that regulation still exist. Though it failed to be passed at first consideration by the European Parliament, countries and their regulatory agencies are still interested in and actively supportive of a regulatory framework that drives the use of conventional pesticides downwards. At the same time there is a recognition that food security must be maintained and therefore crop protection solutions need to be available to ensure delivery of the quantities of good quality food required for future populations.

How has regulation or policy related to biologicals changed over recent years in positive or negative ways?

Regulation and data requirements relating to biological products has changed to some degree over the years and the ongoing debate is still very much a live issue in Europe. The development and implementation of a specific regulatory framework for biologicals remains a work in progress. From the Certis Belchim perspective, which is probably similar to the general view from key players, a more appropriate, clear regulatory framework for biologicals within the overall situation would be welcome. The lack of a dedicated policy with common rules for regulatory assessment across the Members States has not been helpful, and the sector still requires regulation. The recent rejection of the Sustainable Use Regulation in the EU Parliament has changed the course of the development of biological regulation in the short term. Without a European Regulation, individual Member States are likely to introduce their own regulation and interpretation to drive the sustainability agenda. The danger then is that policy across Europe may not be harmonised, which would make things much more complicated for multi-national businesses.

Do you see significant differences in biologicals demand or application across geographic regions you serve?

In our experience, demand for and application of biological products has been higher in southern Europe, largely due to the biological solutions available to address the types of crops involved and the pests and the problems they cause growers. It is also true that, for large broad-acre crops such as cereals, oilseed rape and potatoes, the number and range of biological solutions is currently more limited than for high value speciality crops, especially fruit and vegetables. However, it is a very dynamic sector where a lot of research is going on and new technologies are being examined. This is likely to result in new biological products coming into this space and we shall probably see biological solutions being introduced increasingly to these major crops as well.

What benefits do your biological solutions bring to growers?

Our biological/biorational solutions certainly help to meet some of the challenges that face growers as they endeavour to respect exacting regulations and demands from the food industry relating to consumer concerns especially for chemical pesticide residues in produce. Biological solutions certainly bring a lot of benefits in those areas where there is a particular issue that growers are dealing with, often caused by the way they use conventional chemistry. If they can substitute or adapt the use of conventional products, adding biological solutions as part of an integrated programme, these products bring a real benefit. In some situations, a biological can be a direct substitute for a product that is no longer acceptable to a government agency or a food chain player. That is particularly the case in the area of insecticides but also now even for herbicides. For example, the use of glyphosate in the Home and Garden market can be successfully largely substituted by a biorational product such as pelargonic acid.

How do you cope with the challenges in expanding adoption of biologicals?

The key here is grower education and the way in which we support our distributors, as well as growers directly. We aim to build their understanding of how to get the best results from the biological products in each situation, which tends to be specific to the crop. Certis Belchim has invested a lot in developing programmes like ‘Growing For The Future’ (G4TF) to demonstrate how integrated programmes can address specific issues facing growers in particular crops. We have an ever-widening collection of different approaches in protected and outdoor crops but, alongside that, we have also developed ‘The Growing Academy’, which focuses on best practice in the way these products are used, generally on a specific crop basis. Those workshops and seminars are run by our crop managers alongside experts from the crop sector in the country in question. For Certis Belchim, Spain has been very much the test bed for that approach. Ultimately, education of growers and distributors, who then support their grower customers in the way the products are used, is critical. This has required an investment on our part to provide both technicians working for the distributors and growers directly with the knowledge they need.

Do you adapt marketing approaches for biologicals versus traditional chemicals? 

The marketing approach is more technically driven for biologicals and much more knowledge intensive than for conventional chemicals. For conventional products the focus tends to be on the benefits each product offers per se but for biologicals we need to provide a lot more information to give an understanding of how the products work and transfer knowledge to ensure they are used to best advantage, in many cases as part of an integrated programme. This involves not only application timing but also application technique and the sequence of application of the biological in relation to conventional chemistry in a programme with other products.

What trends do you expect to shape the biologicals market over the next 5-10 years?

We expect trends towards the sustainable use of crop protection products to continue. The arguments in favour of sustainable crop production and sustainable crop protection as part of that, will not go away. Those arguments will continue to be made and will have an influence on how the biological market develops but the overall trend and shape is certainly one of increase and expansion. This market is growing at two to three times the rate of growth of the conventional crop protection market, largely because of the green agendas being pursued at European and national level. Because of the technologies that are being developed, the products that will come to market in the next five years will be more effective and better able to address the crop protection challenges facing growers and in a much broader range of crops than we have seen in the past.

By Joyce Wang

Share this post