Feature article - Recent R&D developments for biosolutions in agriculture
Karan Chechi of ChemAnalyst looks at why demand is growing for a key alternative to agrochemicals
Agrochemicals such as pesticides, fertilisers and plant growth enhancers have played a crucial role over the last century. They allowed agricultural productivity to keep up with population growth and saved billions from starvation.
However, the impact they have on the environment has become impossible to ignore, and they are increasingly seen as 20th-century instruments that are ill-suited for the challenges of today. According to the WHO, there are more than three million cases of agrochemical poisoning. The prolonged, intensive and indiscriminate use of chemicals in fertilisers has severely affected soil biodiversity, food safety and agricultural sustainability, resulting in long-term harmful effects on nutritional security, and both human and animal health.
Growing awareness among farmers about the harmful effects of chemical and synthetic fertilisers on the environment, along with rising consumer demand for sustainable products, is driving the need for biosolutions across North America’s agrochemical industries. The use of chemical pesticides is strictly restricted in some regions, and, importantly, consumers are increasingly demanding eco-friendly products.
Biosolutions of all kinds provide an array of innovations and technologies to enhance crop productivity and provide food security to farmers. They have the potential to address some of the most critical global challenges, including climate change, pandemics, diseases and worldwide food security.
In recent years, research into and use of biostimulants in plants under environmental stress has significantly increased. A plant biostimulant is a substance or microbe that enhances plant’s nutrition efficiency, abiotic stress tolerance and/or crop quality traits, regardless of its nutrient content. Biostimulants reduce the need for fertilisers and promote plant growth.
Many raw materials have been used in their production, including hormones, algae extracts, and plant growth-promoting bacteria. For example, the biostimulant Crop+, which is applied in tomatoes under stressful conditions provided the highest soluble (°brix)/titratable acidity index. Abiotic stress largely influences plant development and crop yield and is becoming a major threat to food security due to the constant changes in climate and worsening of the environment caused by human activities.
To manage abiotic stress, plants initiate several molecular, cellular and physiological changes to respond and adapt to such stresses. Most plant biostimulants are added to the rhizosphere for the smooth uptake of nutrients. Many also have protective effects against environmental stress, such as soil salinisation, water deficit and exposure to sub-optimal growth temperatures. Thus, biostimulant treatment can make agriculture more sustainable and resilient to environmental perturbations.
Several players are investing in the development of new products for the incorporation of biostimulants to optimise the real gains from these products and reduce the dependency on chemical fertilisers.
Novozymes and Anuvia Plant Nutrients, a plant nutrient company that makes bio-based fertilisers, announced in October that they have joined forces to develop various biotechnologies for fertilisers. The companies will identify additional microbes and enzymes that could improve the nutritional efficiency of crops and improve the nutritional efficiency and health of crops, using Novozymes’ phosphate solubilising microbial technologies
Bayer Crop Science has developed ‘Short Stature Corn’, a hybrid crop that grows shorter and sturdier than traditional corn. This innovation includes three different development approaches with the latest technologies in traditional breeding, biotechnology and gene editing. Bob Reiter, head of R&D, said that he believes that it “is going to be revolutionary”.
Meanwhile, United Phosphorous launched Natural Plant Protection (NPP) in July. This is a new global business unit of natural and biologically derived agricultural inputs and technologies. The company said that this launch will play an important role in addressing farmers’ problems, including abiotic stress, soil health and resistance management, in developed and developing agricultural markets alike.
Agriculture development is essential to provide adequate nutrition to the ascending human population without compromising on ecology and the environment. The use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides can cause serious hazards to soil, environment and human health. Most pesticides negatively affect the biological function of microorganisms and cause an imbalance of soil fertility, which in turn affects crop productivity.
The incorporation of biostimulants can boost the agrochemical industry in North America as it reduces the need for fertilisers and promotes plant growth. Continuously increasing consumer demand for environment friendly products is augmenting the need for biosolutions. The increased demand for sustainable solutions drives recent R&D developments for biosolutions as it covers the entire spectrum of applications from seed treatment to post-harvest.
Director - ChemAnalyst ChemAnalyst
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