Biopesticides on the march
What was striking about the conference was not only the relatively large attendance (100), but also the number of large chemical companies present, particularly from the United States. Monsanto, Bayer and BASF were out in force while the largest specialist biocontrol company, AgraQuest, was also strongly represented.
The market for biocontrol products is now growing much faster than that for synthetic chemical products, the availability of which is diminishing. Of 400 or so active ingredients now authorised in the EU, getting on for a quarter are biocontrol products.
The biggest market for biocontrol products up to now has been in protected crops (greenhouses and polytunnels). There is certainly scope in field vegetables where residue issues are important for the final consumer, but we are some way off broad spectrum products which can be used extensively on arable crops.
Historically there were some poor products on the market which did not help the reputation of the industry. The so-called 'grey market' products or bio stimulants, which are generally outside the scope of regulation, are also a challenge in marketing terms.
For growers biocontrol products offer a lower kill rate and often lower stability because of their very character. They also require more technical expertise in their use. They can, however, be used in combinaton with chemical products in many cases which is consistent with the EU policy of integrated pest management.
There is no doubt that the US has done a better job than the EU in promotning and regulating these products (this is also true of the life sciences industry more generally). The new EU regulatory framework, including zonal mutual recognition, should make life easier but the devil is in the detail.