The list of biological products farmers will have available continues to grow. The idea of using bio tools is gaining value as more companies, including Monsanto, Bayer and FMC have launched a range of bio-based products. As researchers unlock ways natural products can interact in the environment, you'll be seeing more. There's one challenge, however, that all bio-based products face - working with conventional chemistries.
It's not a new problem, and there are already some great success stories. For example, Poncho/Votivo is a combo of a bio product and a conventional chemistry. FMC has combined a bio soil insecticide with a conventional insecticide. In fact that's where the future lies, bring effective bio products along with conventional chemistries for enhanced performance.
Stockton, an Israel-based, firm that creates biologicals is working on tools that essentially play well with others. It's first major product - Timorex Gold - is a fungicide that is based on an essential oil. The tea-tree oil-based product has 17 different key components that make up the product. Sarah Reiter, is the U.S. market lead for Stockton, and she explains that in its manufacture those 17 items have to exist in the exact same ratios every time. Precision is key with a biological product.
"The industry is very good at finding solo molecules that offer plant defense," Reiter says.
She explains that biological products combined with conventional chemistries can help break a resistance cycle. Often the biological is working on the pest in a totally new way, and often from a number of angles. However, she adds that this efficacy happens because the two are never used alone.
"It's an interesting model. If a conventional chemistry has a narrow spectrum, you can expand its potential by mixing it with the [biological]," she says.
New to the U.S., not the world
This plant extract approach, where essential oils do some heavy lifting in plant disease control, is already being used in other countries. In fact, the U.S. is one of the last markets to get Timorex Gold. The work at Stockton focuses on the genetics of the target plan to find out what plant responses indicate the kind of chemistry that's needed. "There are millions of genes and we use data analytical tools to narrow down the potential target list," she explains.
She notes that biological development also needs a different mindset than you might find with conventional chemistry. Reiter, who has worked with major crop protection companies in the past, notes that with microbials you are looking at the role they play in soil and root health. "You need a different kind of mentality than in the methyl bromide era," she says, referring to a widely used soil fumigant that's no longer available to agriculture.
"We have to move away from the 'sterilize the soil' approach and that made us think differently about what produces a healthy plant," she explains.
Microbials are already deployed in a number of ways in high-value crops, and Timorex Gold is no different. The product is being sold to the fruit and vegetable crops with its ability to control a range of diseases. But broad-acre crops like corn and soybeans are in the future. In fact, Timorex Gold has shown activity on sclerotinia, which is the cause of white mold.
"We're still researching this in South America," she says. "We need another year of trials to determine what works."
Timorex has activity on a wide disease spectrum including botrytis, sour rot in grapes, anthracnose, sclerotinia, powdery mildew and bacterial diseases. It is biologically derived so it has no maximum residue level concerns in the market as well. And one other factor for Stockton - the product mixes easily with conventional chemistries so it can be tank-mixed with other products.
"It is an essential oil which has many components," Reiter says. "This product needs to refining except to make sure the components are up to specification. It has a 5-year shelf life, which is the same as conventional formulated mixes and it can be stored with them." In addition, she notes that the product can be used in organic production systems too - which is a benefit of a growing number of biological products too.
The product has been marketed for more than 9 years in other parts of the world and is labeled in the U.S. right now for fruits, vegetables and cereals. The only thing holding the company back from more crops is staffing limits. As more resources become available, Reiter anticipates adding more crops. Testing is also underway for more crop uses too.
Stockton is gaining a foothold in the U.S. market and their work shows there's growing interest in biologicals. Learn more about Timorex Gold at stockton-ag.com.