Would working with nature relieve some of the evolutionary pressure on arable weeds and plant pests and stop them from becoming so aggressive? This is one of the areas of discussion for the Agri-Tech East Pollinator event ‘Mimic, Harness or Borrow; Applying Nature’s Solutions to Agriculture’ being held in Norwich on 15th January 2019.
Dr Belinda Clarke, Director of Agri-Tech East, comments that one of the interesting trends she has seen recently is the increasing number of organisations developing agri-products based on natural processes and active ingredients. She says; “Bio mimicry in all its forms has a role in conventional and organic farming and some promising solutions are emerging.”
Speakers at the event are drawn from AB Consortia; AlphaBioControl; Biotechnica; GOWAN; ITAKA Crop Solution; Micromix and Plater Bio.
Specificity is one way that nature manages the use of highly toxic chemicals in the environment and this is being mimicked in agriculture with the use of natural products.
For example, the control of aphids is becoming a major problem for UK farmers following the withdrawal of three neonicotinoids of greatest concern for bee health. Their removal from the market has left farmers and growers with few registered chemical options for the control of aphids.
Iain Fleming, CEO of AlphaBioControl comments that there are alternatives. He says: “The adoption of sustainable Integrated Pest Management strategies, which aim to combine different methods of low impact and low risk pest control, has encouraged the examination of what elements of the natural world can be harnessed to provide effective crop protection.
“By focussing particularly on natural chemistries, we at AlphaBioControl now have one registered product available to growers (FLiPPER) which provides effective control of sucking insects. Through the work of our colleague Dr Graham Moores, we are able to select the specific natural chemicals and combinations thereof, that have very specific impacts on the functionality of these insects and do not have a damaging impact on populations of beneficial insects or pollinators such as bees.”
Also speaking at the event is Dr Ed Moorhouse, the new Head of Strategy Development with ITAKA Crop Solution, he explains that many plants and microorganisms produce natural chemicals that deter pests and/or limit their ability to locate host crops. “A good example of this is a natural ingredient found in garlic, which repels cabbage stem flea beetle, a major pest in oil seed rape,” he says.
Building plant resilience is another way to promote crop performance.
ITAKA Crop Solution has developed a seed treatment that enhances the levels of naturally occurring microorganisms that in uncultivated soil are found around the plant roots.
Dr Moorhouse explains that the Rhizosphere is the name given to a region of the soil directly around the roots. “Beneficial microorganisms in the Rhizosphere, such as bacteria and fungi, have an important role in root function, such as making nutrients from the soil more available to the plant and increasing the volume of soil available to the plant. These microorganisms “feed-off” sugars, proteins and other products that are produced by the roots in a mutually beneficial relationship for both the crop and the microbe.
“Itaka has developed a range of seed dressings and soil application solutions that supplement the natural microbial population. Work with commercial growers has demonstrated improved crop establishment and it is thought that this is due to the beneficial effects on early root development. Rapid crop establishment has several advantages, such as reducing the window for weed competition, and this is likely to become more important with the loss of key herbicides and increased climatic challenges for farmers and growers”.
KONCIA and MAXY ROOT are two examples of a number of products that Itaka has developed to improve crop production as part of an integrated crop management system. These products need to be combined based on a range of factors such as crop, soil type and location to deliver the maximum benefit for the farmer.
The benefits of this treatment have been exploited by speciality growers for several years, but there is increasing interest for application in large scale cropping systems and Itaka is working with farmers to develop application strategies on these crops.
Other strategies to be discussed at the meeting include the use of biostimulants to overcome plant stress.