Biopesticide research essential to meet market changes

27 Oct 2016

tractor field spray

Horticulture is undergoing rapid growth, which makes being ahead of trends particularly important to ensure ongoing competitiveness.

As our exports grow, so too does our awareness that consumers are increasingly seeking out food produced sustainably and with minimal chemical use. Tolerance for chemical residues in fresh produce is low in our key export markets, and testing regimes are getting ever more precise.

A global move away from chemical pesticides leaves growers in New Zealand looking at what the alternatives are to control pests and diseases that can cause major production losses, or even wipe out crops. Some of the more toxic pesticides are being phased out overseas, and there is huge investment globally in biological controls, such as biopesticides.

Biopesticides are naturally occurring substances or micro-organisms that control pests.

Companies traditionally selling agrichemicals are part of a worldwide race to develop and commercialise biopesticides, which generally have a reduced risk profile with limited residues, and therefore have significant advantages to growers, especially with regard to access to export markets.

On a global scale, New Zealand is a very small market for agrichemical companies. As growers increasingly seek out alternatives to agrichemicals, there is less appetite for companies producing these products to invest in research and development, or to register products in New Zealand. Yet if New Zealand is to remain reliant on agrichemicals, access to technology will be essential to meet residue compliance, combat pest resistance, and allow for targeted use.

At this stage, regulatory systems for biopesticides are not as widely developed as agrichemical registration systems in many countries, including New Zealand. Neither the Environmental Protection Authority nor the Ministry for Primary Industries currently provide specific advice on requirements for registration of biopesticides. So there is limited access in New Zealand, though some biopesticides have been registered (under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms (HSNO) Act).

As biopesticides are predicted to be a key component of future pest management systems globally, it makes sense to look at positioning New Zealand as world-leading in terms of sustainability, low residues, and reduced agrichemical use, particularly as our exports target smaller, high-value market segments with high expectations.

It is good to see that the likes of AgResearch, Lincoln and Massey Universities, Plant & Food Research and Scion are involved in biopesticide research and development. But considerable investment and education will be required if New Zealand growers are going to have timely access to the same pest management as their global competitors.  

-       Mike Chapman, CEO